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Are Tort Cases Out of Control? No

Posted on January 18, 2012 to

David Schloss

Some terms that are synonymous with tort reform are “frivolous lawsuit” and “lawsuit abuse.” Proponents of tort reform are quick to throw those words around in an effort to characterize personal injury plaintiffs as people after a large financial windfall from the court system. However, there are some facts that tort reform advocates do not mention.

Politicians and corporations often cite the few torts cases that resulted in extremely high punitive damage rewards for the plaintiff. These high rewards rarely stand and are often reduced on appeal or upon settlement, as in the McDonalds hot coffee case we discussed yesterday. The $2.7 million punitive damages reward was reduced to $480,000 on appeal in that case. In addition, punitive damages are relatively rare in personal injury verdicts.

Tort reform advocates say that the number of tort cases is out of control in America’s state courts. However, the most recent numbers from the Office of the U.S. Courts show that tort cases fell by 28 percent between 2002 and 2004.

Proponents of tort reform want to put a cap on punitive damage rewards in personal injury cases. Punitive damage rewards serve as a deterrent to prevent similar conduct in the future. Would an arbitrary punitive damage cap of $250,000 in a case like the Ford Pinto or Exxon Valdez oil spill deter a multi-billion dollar corporation from committing violations in the future?

Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot, L.L.P.

Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia Injury Attorneys

Approved by attorney David Schloss