Personal injury and wrongful death lawyers provide daily assistance to those who have suffered losses due to the negligence or wrongdoing of others. Victims must navigate the civil justice system, filing claims called "torts" to get compensation for harm they endured. Victims are supposed to be "made whole" within this system. The courts aim to ensure victims are fully compensated for economic losses (i.e., medical bills, lost wages) and non-economic losses (i.e., pain and suffering).
Unfortunately, changes to the civil justice system could make it much more difficult for individuals to make claims and effectively get the compensation they deserve.
It is important to monitor any possibility of changing laws affecting the civil justice system. Victims should also ensure they are regularly in contact with an injury lawyer who can help them understand how to work within the revamped system to get the maximum compensation for damages.
Will Tort Reform Undermine Protections for Injured Victims?
Both the Washington Post and Center for Justice and Democracy have sounded the alarm about proposed changes to the civil justice system. Changes would affect the ability of plaintiffs to bring claims when they have been wronged and the ability of plaintiffs to get the full compensation they deserve from a civil claim.
One proposed change is a bill to end the so-called "settlement slush fund." According to Centers for Justice and Democracy, existing law allows for the federal government to enter into settlements which include paying third parties to "advance programs that assist with recovery, benefits, and relief for communities harmed by lawbreakers."
For example, if the government settles an environmental claim, the government might give money to a third party as part of the settlement so the third party can orchestrate efforts to help rebuild communities where the environmental damage was. The change being proposed would hamstrung federal authorities by limiting payments third parties and allowing only individualized restitution to a wronged person and/or other kinds of direct payments for damages.
Another proposed change would impose a $250,000 cap on non-financial damages which plaintiffs can be awarded in malpractice cases for things like pain and suffering. If damages are capped, victims will likely go uncompensated for some losses and will get less compensation than a court recommended due to the cap. Although there are already some states with caps, this federal rule would be an unwelcome change because it would ensure no one anywhere in the country could get more compensation from a doctor who botched a procedure.
Yet another change would discourage many cases from even being filed. The proposed modification involves mandating federal judges levy sanctions against attorneys who file frivolous claims on a client's behalf. A similar scheme was tried in the past, but rescinded, due to the fact legitimate civil rights cases and consumer protection claims were not filed because attorneys didn't want to take a chance on being sanctioned.
If these changes go forward, plaintiffs will not only have a harder time getting a case before a court but may also not get the full compensation they deserve. It is best to talk with an attorney to find out what options are available for filing a claim and making the most of the consumer protections still in place.