I noted with interest the series of editorials on what The News perceives is wrong with our judicial tort system. I believe this series lays too much of the blame on trial lawyers, and accepts as fact the myths about our judicial tort system.
For example, tort claims accounted for only about 5 percent of all civil claims filed in state courts in 1992. Tort filings in state courts declined between 1989 and 1998 by 1 percent.
Richard Turbin, head of the American Bar Association's Tort and Insurance Practice section, a group that includes plaintiff and defense lawyers, said the rate of federal lawsuits per capita has not changed since 1790 and that contract claims are responsible for clogging the courts.
Also, plaintiffs have steadily won 30 to 40 percent of cases, and the size of awards has increased due to natural inflation only.
Tort system costs pale in comparison to costs associated with injury. A Rand study estimated that medical spending for the treatment of injuries cost the U.S. economy nearly $154 billion in 1997, and that lost work time added another $100 billion. The National Safety Council estimates that accident costs totaled $480.5 billion in 1998.
About 6,000 deaths and millions of injuries are prevented each year because of the deterrent effect of products liability, according to the Consumer Federation of America. When juries speak, corporate America listens. That's why defectively designed cribs no longer strangle infants, flammable children's pajamas have been taken off the market, once-harmful medical devices have been redesigned, auto fuel systems have been strengthened, cancer-causing asbestos no longer poisons homes, schools and work places, and farm machinery has safety guards.
Often, the facts of cases are blown out of proportion by those in favor of tort "reform." Tort "reform" limits the rights of individuals to hold wrongdoers accountable, while allowing corporate wrongdoers to hide from accountability.
The legal system can never replace lost limbs, heal severe burns or bring loved ones back. It can only attempt to compensate litigants for their loss. Given that state of affairs, one should not lay the blame at the feet of the trial lawyers. Before coming to conclusions about this issue, all of the facts must be presented.
JEFFREY E. MARION