Monday, May 4, 2009

"Tort Reform" again

As the Republican party flops and flounders around trying to find some issue with traction among the American people, they are trying just about all of their old standards, without much success. Their current attempt, which I have seen mentioned several times in the last week or so, is "tort reform." This is accompanied with wailing and cursing about those evil "trial lawyers" who seem to pose such a grave threat to our very existence.

Republicans never state straight out what this campaign is about. I have been following this issue for thirty years or so, and would like to tell you about it.

If you are harmed by a big corporation, you are, of course, free to sue them for damages. You have to hire an attorney, while the corporation undoubtedly has many attorney on its staff and on retainer.

It can cost millions of dollars to pursue one of these lawsuits, because you are fighting against rich defendants who are going to do everything they can to make it as expensive as possible for you to get justice. The way ordinary people do this, is to find an attorney who will take the case on a "contingent fee" basis. As many of you undoubtedly know, this means that the attorney gets no money from you unless you win the case, in which case he gets a percentage of what you are awarded in damages. Presumably, this provides a good incentive for attorneys to not take unsound cases, as they could end up working for years for nothing. Without this arrangement, it would obviously not be possible for any normal person to sue a large corporation.

This is what "tort reform" is about. It almost inevitably consists in denying plaintiffs in this kind of case the right to sue on a contingent fee basis. This doesn't stop the corporations from using all the attorneys they want, since they don't need to pay them this way. What it does is destroy the ability of ordinary people to stand up to even the most horrible corporate abuses.

Once again, this classic Republican issue is about one thing and one thing only: tilting the playing field in favor of the rich- the only real purpose for the existence of the Republican party. That's what lies behind all of the hypocritical posturing about the horrors of "trial lawyers," just as it is what lies behind any Republican issue.

No comments: