I keep reading reports that the so-called tort reform movement is much exaggerated. Many of these so-called "reforms" keep folks from getting to the courthouse and seeking true relief. One more such report appears in the form of Blocking the Courthouse Door, by Stephanie Mencimer, reviewed by Washington Monthly. The author recounts various examples of tort reform blocking the courthouse door. A Republican homeowner in Houston finds his brand new home needs $199,000 in repairs. But, since he is forced into binding arbitration, Jordan Fogal and his wife, are offered a mere $5,000 by the builder.
Alvin Berry voted for Proposition 12, a Texas medical malpractice "reform" in 2003. Now, Mr. Berry finds himself shortchanged by his doctor. Mr. Berry will lose his life in five years, because his doctor ignored some clearly dangerous lab results. But, with the cap on medical malpractice damages, his case has relatively little value. He cannot find a lawyer interested in his case.
Juan Martinez was killed in 1999 when a reactor exploded at a Phillips Chemical Plant in Pasadena, Texas. The jury stuck it to the Phillips with a large amount of punitive damages. But, under the tort "reform" championed by Gov. George Bush in 1995, the jury award was reduced 97%. For more details, see the book review of Blocking the Courthouse Door here by Washington Monthly.
The book suggests part of the change in access to the courts lies with the demise of unions. Back when unions were a larger part of the work place, many work issues were resolved quietly as part of the grievance process. But, with unions so diminished, most workers now have no other recourse than lawsuits. And, know much of the change started with changes in the federal rules. Dismissal of cases and summary judgment are much easier to obtain in the late 1980’s.
The much-maligned spilled coffee case actually had some good facts to support the large verdict. And, that large verdict was reduced on appeal. I previously discussed the McDonald’s spilled coffee case here. The plaintiff in the spilled coffee case was found 20% at fault. The initial $2.7 million verdict was reduced by the trial judge to $480,000. It was reduced again while on appeal. See ‘lectric law library for more details about the McDonalds spilled coffee case.