Tort Reform Opponents: “Let Us Eat Cake”

This month the Pacific Research Institute (PRI) released its U.S. Tort Liability Index: 2010 Report chronicling the critical condition of tort, one facet of America’s law system. Pennsylvania shuffles into the bottom of the state rankings at number 46.

Tort reformers are bent on righting the wrongs of corrupt lawyers and medical malpractice suits; Pennsylvania especially has been adversely affected by these. Doctors have left the state because of its difficult practice climate and excruciatingly high malpractice insurance rates. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that in 2006 Pennsylvania doctors’ average medical malpractice payment was $332,376. The median payment was the third highest in the country.  Whie Pennsylvania has made some improvement – the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) has a list of the tort reform legislation passed in Pennsylvania that discourages frivolous lawsuits and contributes to a more just legal climate – the state has a long way to go.

On the other side of the table, however, lawyers claim that “tort reform” is a ridiculous notion that has been coined by “big business,” who must be trying to exploit the injured. Certainly this couldn’t be a reaction prompted by a fear of losing opportunities to wage lucrative lawsuits.

Pennsylvania’s economic woes could be somewhat allayed by tort reform. Last fall, a Commonwealth Foundation commentary examined the overall cost of Pennsylvania’s frequent lawsuits.  Economic and employment growth are stronger in states where doctors can practice without obscene malpractice insurance fees. Last year, Newt Ginrich and Wayne Oliver asserted that Pennsylvania could see annual savings of $2 billion if legal reform was enacted. PRI’s analysis found that job growth was 57 percent greater in the 10 states with the best tort climates than in the 10 states with the worst tort climates.