Tort Reform is a popular issue for politicians these days. The argument we hear is that tort reform laws are necessary to prevent or limit all of the “frivolous lawsuits” that are being filed in our courts. It is important to look at these laws carefully, because if you do you will see that the true target of the insurance companies and the corporations that are backing these efforts is not the “frivolous” suits. The coordinated tort reform effort’s true target is the valid and legitimate claims of seriously injured individuals.
In Ohio for many years there have been rules that govern attorneys as well as laws that address the filing of a truly frivolous lawsuit. A frivolous lawsuit is one that has no basis in law or fact or a lawsuit that is brought merely to harass with no legitimate legal basis. If a lawyer files a frivolous lawsuit he/she can be disciplined by the Supreme Court. Also, the lawyer as well as the client can be made to pay the expenses of the party who was sued. These rules have existed in Ohio long before the call for tort reform. The so-called “tort reform” laws that have been passed in Ohio as well as the federal laws that some politicians want to be passed have nothing to do with preventing frivolous lawsuits. Instead these laws put artificial caps or limits on the compensation that a person can receive for serious and legitimate injuries even in cases where the party that caused the injury admits fault. Other so-called “tort reform” laws provide complete immunity to physicians, municipalities or product manufacturers under certain circumstances, even when their conduct was wrongful and caused a serious injury or death.
For example: one of Ohio’s recently enacted tort reform laws provides the manufacturer of a product total immunity if the product was more than ten years old when it caused an injury or death. Even if the defect or problem in the product existed from the day it was manufactured, the manufacturer is still totally immune. Consequently, if a loved one is seriously injured because a part on a machine was not properly welded when it was made but it took ten years and two months to fail, the manufacturer is immune. The injured party has no recourse under Ohio law. More about Defective Machinery
Many people who support the need for tort reform laws do so under the belief that these laws are designed to prevent frivolous lawsuits. This is as a result of misinformation. Unfortunately, many people learn the truth for the first time when they are sitting in an attorney’s office after experiencing the loss of a loved one or after having suffered a serious injury as the result of someone’s neglect. It is then that the attorney must give what is to them surprising advice: that their valid and legitimate claim has been extinguished or severly limited by some new tort reform law.
With the upcoming political season, we will probably once again hear from the candidates for state or federal office that there is a need to prevent frivolous lawsuits and “runaway” juries. The current laws already address this issue. Please make sure to carefully review what is being proposed because it is very easy to give up your rights but very difficult to get them back.
Author: David A. Forrest, Esq. More About The Author