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Understanding tort reform and its potential consequences, Part 2

Researchers generally recognize three waves of tort reform. The most recent wave occurred between 2002 and 2005. Nine states across the country enacted laws to cap damages in medical malpractice cases. Then, as now, proponents of plans to immunize medical professionals from being held liable for their negligence have claimed that tort reform is necessary to promote good health.

The arguments take different forms. Some so-called tort-reformers have argued that jury awards in medical malpractice cases drive up the costs of health care. Other say that medical malpractice insurance costs reduce access to medical care as doctors flee rural areas and smaller communities due to their insurance rates.

In the last post, we discussed the history of tort reform and explained that in many ways, the concept is based upon exaggerated and false information – often based on urban legends that distort the true nature of how tort law and jury awards actually function. Tort reformers are well aware that the Constitution specifically guarantees the right to have a jury decide the facts, and damages, in a civil case involving injury. Yet, they have developed a system of propaganda to sway public debate toward taking the Seventh Amendment right away, or seriously diminish its value.

The phrase tort reform does not specifically identify any single process, but a concept to reduce costs for big business and the insurance companies. Tort reform can take different forms. Proposals may include one or more of a wide range of strategies to immunize negligent actors from liability for their mistakes. A nonexhaustive list of common tactics to limit your constitutional rights includes:

Caps On Noneconomic Damages

Damage caps are the most common type of tort reform. Some states have imposed a limit as low as $250,000 on all noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. Proponents suggest that a quarter-million dollars is adequate, no matter what circumstances are involved. However, compensation for a lifetime of hopes and dreams destroyed, a lifetime of pain and suffering and the inability to improve quality of life may be better determined by a jury on the facts of a single case than by lawmakers in their sterile office as a blanket rule for all.

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