Ralph Nader is known for being a prominent lawyer, political activist and a five-time presidential candidate. He is also known for becoming the leading crusader for car-safety reform, is the founder of the Public Citizen consumer advocacy group and actively opposes large, unchecked corporate power. Recently, Nader published an article in Harper’s Magazine called “Suing for Justice,” which talks about how tort reform, or rather “deform,” relates to our justice system.
Tort reform isn’t a single change or law. Rather, it can be described as a group of laws created with the purpose of changing how our civil justice system works. As you can imagine, it’s a rather controversial topic. Unfortunately, tort reforms have mostly hurt personal injury victims by:
- Making it more difficult for victims who sustain injuries due to negligence to file lawsuits
- Making it more difficult for victims who sustain injuries to have their case reviewed by a jury
- Placing caps on the awards for damages victims can receive when they sustain an injury due to negligence
These “deforms” have been passed through the state and federal legislature and are, more often than not, backed by the corporations that most stand to benefit from them. As Nader puts it, “corporate law firms have strip-mined and twisted tort laws against the very people most in need of them.”
There are even instances where tort deformers have tried to push laws through legislation that limit the contingency fees payable to attorneys who accept tort cases. Had the legislation passed, it could significantly decrease the number of attorneys who would represent injured victims. In other instances, tort deformers have tried to make losing injury plaintiffs pay damages. For example, if a family who lost a loved one due to a car manufacturer’s defective product lost the wrongful death case, the family would have to pay for the manufacturer’s very expensive corporate lawyers.
Tort Reforms Twists the Law and Hurt the People Who Most Depend on It
Nader goes on to say the rights of people who have sustained injuries from medical malpractice, defective products, toxic chemicals, police violence, workplace dangers and other forms of negligence are being limited. Moreover, the costs for medical treatment and legal fees fall on the victims, their families and taxpayers who fund our social welfare programs. With the tort reform caps placed on awards for damages, victims who are unable to afford their medical costs or return to work may turn to assistance programs, which forces taxpayers to pick up the corporate slack.
The article also reminds us how corporate law firms have encouraged the stereotypes, such as “greedy attorneys,” “ambulance chasers” and the “sue-happy culture” that surround tort cases. However, Nader points out that lawsuits are really the only way we can hold negligent companies, manufacturers and medical practitioners accountable. Tort cases should never be considered “frivolous lawsuits.”
Most importantly, Nader calls upon tort super-lawyers to take part in “strongly defending a resurgent law of torts—one that is practiced by, of, and for the people.” Powerful corporations with nearly unlimited resources have been too successful in making it difficult to hold accountable and award the compensation injury victims deserve. Nader is correct in that steps need to be taken to change this.