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Tort Reform Gaining Momentum.

The Economist reports that momentum is gathering behind tort reform in America.

"Next week Arlen Specter, a Republican senator, is set to introduce a bill that is intended to break the deadlock over asbestos litigation while limiting the exposure of firms and insurance companies to future claims. Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, hopes to bring a bill to change the rules on class-action lawsuits to the chamber’s floor by the week after. Yet more action is promised to limit pay-outs in medical-malpractice lawsuits.

Most Americans agree that matters have got out of hand. According to figures from Tillinghast-Towers Perrin, an insurance consultancy, tort-system costs amounted to $246 billion in 2003—excluding vast settlements agreed by tobacco companies (see chart). That represented 2.2% of GDP, compared with just 0.6% in 1950 and 1.3% by 1970, when the tort industry began to flex its muscles. Tort costs grew by some 15% in 2001, by only a slightly less the year after, and by 5.4% in 2003. The main factor was a considerable rise in liabilities connected with asbestos claims. Mr Bush believes that much of this huge sum is money that companies should not have to part with."

Click on the chart to view larger version:

The United States is probably the most litigious society in the world. People sue for the most absurd reasons. Some people sue for legitimate reasons but demand absurd sums of money.

The most significant and necessary part of tort reform is in the medical field. Doctors are natural prey for trial lawyers; sometimes it is deserved, when a doctor is clearly negligent and directly responsible for loss of health or life, but more often than not, good doctors are sued for simply having the misfortune to treat an individual with a penchant for suing.

The United States is losing many good doctors, particularly doctors who perform delicate, highly-specialized, and difficult procedures, because of skyrocketing medical malpractice insurance costs and a general fear of being sued. Imagine if John Kerry and John Edwards had been elected. Tort reform would have been dead upon inauguration.

WILLisms.com will follow the fight over tort reform in 2005 and beyond.

Posted by Will Franklin · 27 January 2005 11:53 AM