I just got back from a Ralph Nader Conference (Breaking Through Power) in DC on Tort Law (September 29). I was privileged to participate as a “Tort Victim” on a panel moderated by Harvey Rosenfield (Consumer Watchdog). Other panel members were Susan Vento, Todd Anderson, and Laura Gipe-Christian.
Tort Law or Torts, I learned, is the law of compensation for wrongful inflicted injuries and was in existence long before it was ever practiced here in our country. And tort law has three purposes:
- Deterrence (therefore making us safer)
I also found out about the assault on tort law or “tort reform” which has convinced the American public that a system of law had somehow broken and needed to be fixed. This battle for the mind has fostered an attitude of cynicism and skepticism in jurors with the subtle messages about (fill in the blank, answers at the bottom of the post):
- Frivolous ________________
- Runaway ________________ and
- Greedy (or ambulance-chasing) __________________
But actually, the result has been that those who have been wrongfully injured find themselves less compensated and all of us are less safe because it diminishes accountability.
In fact, once a person becomes a victim, tort reform makes them a victim all over again–this time of a system that was meant to help the victim but has been sabotaged to leave them even more vulnerable. And I can give you two examples of this:
- During the lunch break, I had the opportunity to speak with a member of the audience who was there because, as a nurse midwife, she was interested in what would be said about medical malpractice. She said that what was being presented made a lot of sense. But she then told me about what she sees as victims of the focus on medical malpractice: pregnant women who are too often forced into C-sections (or other medical procedures not of their choosing) due to fear on the part of doctors of being sued. Yet, this is a case, perhaps, of the kind of PR which was mentioned; we have been led to believe that frivolous lawsuits in this area have skyrocketed and resulted in things getting out of control. Is this so?
- The second example is out of my own experience. One of the presenters mentioned that too often victims cannot find trial lawyers who are willing to take their case — on a contingency basis — due to the risk of not being able to recover their costs and the concern about whether the case will be successful or be limited by caps on compensation. We have tried multiple times to get someone to take our case without success. By this time, statutes of limitations pose an additional barrier. The end result is just like I was told this week: compensation to victims is barred; disclosure is prevented; and deterrence of future actions is limited. In our case, tort reform, thereby, could have contributed to a situation which allows ongoing opposition and resistance by the industry and regulators to doing whatever it would take to end Preventable Death by Truck Underride. On May 4, 2013, I hit Double Jeopardy! A victim twice over. What will it take to break through this travesty?
Folks, this is a problem. Could it be that tort reform is just one more of the culprits that bear the responsibility for the circumstances that led to my daughters’ deaths in a truck underride crash? If the many layers of leadership in the trucking industry, government regulation, and law enforcement had been held more accountable and liable in the past, might there have been a greater likelihood that AnnaLeah and Mary would still be alive today?
I’ll probably never know for sure. But I can venture a calculated guess. And I can do whatever is within my power to make sure that things get better for someone else.
Here’s to the realization of my dream of a nationwide network of mobilized traffic safety community advocacy groups to educate and empower citizens to take back their right to a day in court as one more strategy to help us realize the vision of moving toward zero preventable deaths and serious injuries from vehicle violence.
(And just in case you need the answers to the quiz: lawsuits, verdicts, and lawyers.)
Instead of like this:
Truck Underride Timeline by IIHS at the Underride Roundtable, May 5, 2016
As always, I am after the truth of the matter and I hope that you are, as well.
VBS craft by Mary in Michigan, Summer of 2007