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The Cry for Reform

15 January, 2016 - 09:34

In 1988, The Conference Board published a study that resulted from a survey of more than 500 chief executive officers from large and small companies regarding the effects of products liability on their firms. The study concluded that US companies are less competitive in international business because of these effects and that products-liability laws must be reformed. The reform effort has been under way ever since, with varying degrees of alarms and finger-pointing as to who is to blame for the “tort crisis,” if there even is one. Business and professional groups beat the drums for tort reform as a means to guarantee “fairness” in the courts as well as spur US economic competitiveness in a global marketplace, while plaintiffs’ attorneys and consumer advocates claim that businesses simply want to externalize costs by denying recovery to victims of greed and carelessness.

Each side vilifies the other in very unseemly language: probusiness advocates call consumer-oriented states “judicial hell-holes” and complain of “well-orchestrated campaign[s] by tort lawyer lobbyists and allies to undo years of tort reform at the state level,” 1 while pro-plaintiff interests claim that there is “scant evidence” of any tort abuse. 2 It would be more amusing if it were not so shrill and partisan. Perhaps the most one can say with any certainty is that peoples’ perception of reality is highly colored by their self-interest. In any event, there have been reforms (or, as the detractors say, “deforms”).