Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Tort reform

The NY Times has harsh words for class action tort reform:

Tort reform is in the eye of the beholder. In the name of reforming the nation's civil justice system, and with scant public debate, President Bush and Congressional Republicans are racing to reward wealthy business supporters by changing the rules for class-action lawsuits. Their real objective is to dilute the impact of strong state laws protecting consumers and the environment and to make it harder for Americans to win redress in court when they are harmed by bad corporate behavior.
I am not a lawyer who regularly works on class action cases. However, I have over the years done a substantial amount of work defending against class action cases, so I can point to my own, hardly scientific, observations of that type of litigation: Each class action (or proposed class action) case on which I worked involved a plaintiffs' law firm that was a class action mill. In each case, the class action was a bludgeon against the defendant. In each case, the defendant very quickly moved to remediate the problems complained of in the complaint. In each case, the plaintiffs' attorneys kept the case alive for years, mostly to generate fees. And in each case, the largest part of the defendant's ultimate payout was to the class action attorneys, with the smallest amount going to the actual claimants. (Indeed, often, the claimants' situation had been remedied through defendant performance within months of the suit.) Do I want to remove all consumer rights? No way! I do not want to return to the bad old days at the turn of the 20th Century where products could be incredibly dangerous and consumers had no recourse. However, I do want to see an end to today's situation, which is simply a well-filled hog trough for plaintiffs' attorneys. There's got to be a happy medium. I don't know whether what the Bush administration proposes is that medium, but I do know that the NY Times (as always) is wrong to cling to the status quo. (Hey, whatever happened to progressive Democrats? It seems to me that the Demos are in the rearguard of every important issue in the political world.)