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What Is Tort Reform and How Does It Impact Personal Injury Law?



Tort Reform: Restrictive Changes Proposed to Legal System for Tort Litigation

Tort reform is a hot and heavily debated topic of late on Capitol Hill and in state legislatures across the country. The scope of tort reform expands far beyond the confines of the United States into other nations, as well. Specific to the United States, the term encompasses modifications proposed to the legal system that impact tort litigation and damages by reducing them both. Tort reform centers much of its focus on the personal injury field. In the United States, the proposed changes regard the imposition of procedural restrictions on the ability to file injury claims and capping damage awards for prevailing plaintiffs.

Economic Aim of Tort Reform: Affordable Medical Malpractice Insurance

On another level, tort reform involves efforts by state legislators to modify legal procedures and processes, such that the abuse of litigation is prevented in specious, frivolous, and unwarranted cases. Tort reform is geared to ending the practice of "ambulance chasing" by unethical lawyers. The purpose of the reform is also to make liability insurance for medical professionals and providers more affordable and attainable. In today's economy, the costs of medical malpractice have spiraled out of control and are beyond the grasp of some providers, have priced others out of the field entirely, or have forced professionals' relocation to localities that offer more affordable insurance coverage and lower instances of malpractice litigation.

As a result, tort reform encompasses an effort to revisit and amend the laws that determine liability for damages, as well as the laws that set the amount of punitive damages available to plaintiffs in civil suits. The caps on damage or punitive damage awards have a further ripple effect economically. In states where there is active tort reform, the medical practice community is positively affected, and medical professionals consider the environment and venue more attractive and hospitable places in which to practice. This benefits the local economy and community.

Tort Reform Has Legislative and Judicial Reform Components

On yet another level and from a multidimensional perspective, tort reform regards both the legislative and judicial branches. The concept involves legislative limitations and modifications of the laws defining medical malpractice litigation and other types of personal injury lawsuits. But the term also envelopes a judicial reform element of the rules that apply to medical malpractice litigation. The reform focuses on limitations imposed on litigants' rights to file suit, the amounts for which they can sue, the amounts of damages they can be awarded by judge or jury, and the situations in which they are eligible and able to seek redress.