Friday, February 10, 2006

let them eat cake

Today's subject is Tort Reform. My disclaimer -- I am a leftie, a liberal with a capital 'L'. That said, let's start with a few assumptions:

  • you have the right to pursue happiness. This does not guarantee that you attain it
  • the universe is not always fair
  • the courts do not exist to "even it up"
  • nothing guarantees you the right to move through your life unoffended

It seems to me that one of the biggest issues facing this country is tort reform. Or you could state it as "our propensity to sue", whichever floats your boat. We all bear the burden, every single day, of a broken system. When you sue because you slipped in the grocery store, everyone's grocery costs go up. When you sue the doctor because your child has a birth defect, we all pay higher medical bills. When you sue McDonald's because your coffee burned you, or sue the toy company because your 3 year old stuck a marble up their nose, we all pay. Not just monetarily, but in all kinds of ways that we bump into every day. Schools drop programs for fear of lawsuits. Playgrounds cost 3 times as much to build because they have to meet ultra-stringent safety regulations. Beaches close to the public because there are no funds for a lifeguard. A needed drug doesn't come to market because .01% of the people that took it in the trials had serious problems. Professors can't teach certain things, or say certain things because one group or another might be offended.

Bad things happen, sometimes to perfectly nice people. If your child is the one that stuck the marble up their nose, I'm sorry for you. It was probably embarassing and frightening for you. Next time you will probably watch your child more carefully. But the toy manufacturer doesn't owe you anything because of it. If you spilled hot coffee on your lap and burned yourself, that's unfortunate. Be more careful next time. The company that sold you the coffee doesn't owe you anything.

When you sue because a bad thing shouldn't have happened to you, you are not "sticking it to the man", you are not "winning one for the little guy". You are picking each and every one of our pockets. You are guaranteeing less choice and less freedom for all of us.

I am not saying that all lawsuits are bad. There are times when it is essential to sue, and we should always have that right. The workplace is a much safer place because of lawsuits. Suing Phillip Morris for intentionally making their cigarettes more addictive, for intentionally targeting underage consumers, for hiding results of research that showed the dangers of their products, was necessary. Suing to desegragate the schools was a brave, difficult act that set in motion a whole host of positive changes.

I am saying that reform is necessary to stop frivolous suits. If 9 out of 10 people think the suit doesn't pass the smell test, throw it out. If a nine year old can't see the logic of it, there isn't any. If the suit is meant to place fault where there is none, drop it. Find some way to limit awards to actual damages. If there is a need for something punitive, require action, not dollars, to make amends.

We need a change. Think about it.

No comments: