Skip to comments.Thompson, Torts, and True Conservatism
Posted on 06/16/2007 11:27:22 PM PDT by Politicalmom
Fred Thompson has not officially entered the race for President of the United States, yet already he is being assailed by Republican bluebloods who want preferential treatment in America's civil justice system. Thompson's crime? He was once a (gasp!) trial lawyer who supports equal justice for all.
The "bluebloods" are Republican business elites who invest in candidates as a cost of doing business, expecting to get a return on their investment if they pick winning candidates. Usually that "return" comes in the form of tax breaks, financial subsidies, or limited accountability for wrong doing. Bluebloods advocate imposing "caps" or artificial limits on the amounts that victims can recover for damages suffered at the hands of wrongdoers who engage in negligent or reckless conduct. While there is no way to limit the extent of the harm that a wrongdoer may inflict, bluebloods want to limit the amount wrongdoers would be required to pay for the damage they cause. They prefer "caps" rather than being required to pay awards commensurate with the damages actually suffered. And, rather than letting individual states address these issues within their own borders, they want the federal government to impose a "one-size fits all" approach to dealing with such issues. In other words, they want federal bureaucrats in Washington, acting at the behest of special interest lobbyists, to decide the upper limits of what innocent victims can recover without regard to the evidence in any particular case and regardless of what a local jury thinks is just and fair under the circumstances. Bluebloods use the euphemism tort "reform" to conceal the true nature of their agenda. A more accurate description of what they are seeking is tort "deform."
The term "tort" means a private or civil wrong, with the added implication that the wrongdoer is required to compensate an innocent party for damages suffered as a result of the wrongdoing. Derived from the medieval Latin word tortum ("wrong"), the root of the word goes back to the ancient Latin verb torquere, which means to twist (compare our modern use of the word "torque"). At its root, therefore, the word "tort" denotes something that is twisted, and needs to be put straight. Bluebloods maintain that conservatives should support their efforts to twist the civil justice system in their favor. In truth, their proposals represent little more than affirmative action programs for wrongdoers.
Historically, tort laws have been matters for decision by the states. Not all states deal with such matters in the same way, and problems that exist in some states may not be present in others. What is a problem in New York may not be a problem in New Mexico, and the approaches to problem solving may be different in Tallahassee than in Topeka.
Conservatives have traditionally respected the rights of the states to identify and address their own problems. They have typically opposed one-size fits all solutions dictated by Congress, believing that people who have their feet on the ground in their communities are in a better position to deal with their problems than bureaucrats who are far from the scene in Washington, DC. Nevertheless, bluebloods, who have historically objected to the federal regulation of their businesses, now want to impose draconian federal requirements on the victims of their wrongdoing. Such attempts should be eschewed by conservatives who believe in the principles of "federalism" and "states rights".
True conservatives understand that accountability and responsibility run hand in hand. Human nature is such that if wrongdoers are not held fully accountable for their wrongful acts, their wrongdoing will increase. As Ronald Reagan said, "If you subsidize something you get more of it"; nevertheless, subsidized wrongdoing is exactly what Republican bluebloods seek. While limitations on liability will likely increase the profitability of businesses engaging in wrongful conduct, such increases will come at the expense of those who are injured by such conduct.
Conservatives should not embrace an agenda that relieves wrongdoers of the consequences of their wrongdoing. Affirmative action for wrongdoers can hardly be described as a conservative approach to problem solving. Furthermore, Americans have historically rejected the idea of a "privileged class" that is allowed to operate under a different set of rules from everyone else. "Equality under the law" is a proud American tradition. Most Americans understand that when they act irresponsibly and put fellow citizens in harm's way, they will be held accountable for their conduct. There should be no exceptions for the rich and powerful. Rich or poor, big or smallaccountability for the consequences of one's actions should be the norm for all members of a just society.
Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC and a nationally recognized trial lawyer who represented Governor Jeb Bush in the Terri Schiavo case.
WARNING: If you wish to join, please be aware that this ping list is EXTREMELY active.
IMHO, the way to handle our litigious nature as a country is to tax the living crap out of the winnings in court cases. This way, we discourage the behavior, but if someone is really in the wrong, the wronged can get proper justice.
That’s an interesting perspective that isn’t often espoused by Republicans.
Night shift : )
Some level of punitive damages is also reasonable, on the principle that it’s not enough merely to force a thief to give back the amount of money which was stolen if the thief happens to get caught and convicted. There should be an additional penalty for the harm caused so as to discourage such acts.
But the enormous punitive damages allowed by our tort system go far beyond such objectives. The tort system has developed into a lottery system where litigants (and attorneys who receive a big percentage as contingency fees) can make incredible fortunes if they convinced a sympathetic jury to sock it to the defendant.
Not only should punitive damages be limited, but a “loser pays” system should require unsuccessful litigants to pay the costs and attorney’s fees of the defendant. That’s the way to discourage frivolous lawsuits and to compensate winning defendants for the huge toll which defending an unjust lawsuit imposes on them.
When some states and localities offer favorable climates for unjust lawsuits against nationwide corporations or individuals from other states, it is squarely within the federal government’s legitimate “interstate commerce” powers to place limits on those lawsuits.
Tort limits are needed, but federalizing lawsuits sounds like more big Federal Govt and Business Socialism.
Also, if you Federalize lawsuits and a liberal Dem gets control....wont be good for big business
I’m content to let the Republicans duke it out and see who’s standing when the smoke clears. I’m impressed by the crop of Republican candidates. I like Guiliani more than I did because he’s very articulate and persuasive which is a good quality in a president. The only problem with him is his record on abortion but he does say he will appoint strict constructionists to the court. He did wear a dress to a Halloween party though and that is a bit worrisome as far a propaganda material here and around the world. Romney is very impressive as a businessman and as a speaker but how is he really when he has to go to the mat in a heated debate or when he has to sound more sincere to connect with the American people? Thompson may have a the good qualities we need and obviously he is a master strategist by polling high and not joining the race. He speaks with common sense and wisdom and patriotism which is something I admire in him. But I am going to have to see more of Fred under pressure to make my decision.
I found some “bluebloods”.
There are lots of aspects in tort reform besides capping damages. Stopping frivolous lawsuits and jury shopping, just to name a couple. Still, GWB ran in support of Tort Reform, and you see how that worked out... I don’t think this is very high on any politician’s radar.
I love the writers use of “Republican Bluebloods”. It has a nicer ring than “democRAT”. Of course when the democRATS ask these bluebloods for campaign funds, the bluebloods are friends?
Tobacco companies are a good example of democRAT lawyering. How much of the damages did and do the lawyers get?
MHO, the way to handle our litigious nature as a country is to tax the living crap out of the winnings in court cases.
Tobacco companies are a good example of democRAT lawyering. How much of the damages did and do the lawyers get?
“Tort limits are needed, but federalizing lawsuits sounds like more big Federal Govt and Business Socialism.”
Exactly, leave the matter for the states to decide.
The key is contingency fees. Get rid of those (with a cost plus arrangement for lawyers) and you’d see most of these cases dry up the next day.
But it should be high on the radar. It not only affects R & D, but has a devastating affect on our whole healthcare industry as well, contributing to skyrocketing healthcare and insurance costs due to frivolous lawsuits.
The biggest obstacle to real tort reform is that the trial lawyers, a wealthy special interest group, has the Democratic Party in their pocket (and, ahem, some Republicans).
"You can have affordable health care and a good environment for jobs. Or you can have rich trial lawyers filing frivolous lawsuits. Not both." ~~ Newt Gingrich
"Last year, U.S. corporations spent more money on tort claims than they did on R&D. If innovation is the key to our long term leadership, then some tort lawyers are cashing out our country's future....tort lawyers are ok with state reform, but not national reform. You know what state level tort reform means - it means that as long as there is one lawsuit-friendly state, they can sue almost any major, deep-pocketed company in America. No thanks, America needs national tort reform." ~~ Mitt Romney
"The current system of litigation is too expensive for America, fails to provide justice for Americans and is being made steadily worse and more expensive by increasingly predatory trial lawyers who have more and more resources devoted to gaming the system to enrich themselves at the expense of individual Americans and American society. This is especially true in the healthcare system. Doctors are more important to our nation's health care system than trial lawyers. In order to ensure the availability of doctors it is important to create and/or maintain hard caps on non-economic damages in medical liability cases." ~~Newt Gingrich
ooops, affect an effect
Oh for the LOVE !!!
This is 10000% against the planks in our party platform! We ARE for tort reform. Pushing Fred as a NOBLE Trial Lawyer is nothing but spin. Why can’t he be honest about that ??
That sure ain't no badge of honor. Bleh.
I do believe those to means of discouragement are needed to put a damper on the litigious nature of our current society. I do not wish to give wrongdoers a pass, however the defendent is not always the one at fault and thus the plaintiff (and the plaintiff's bar) should have reason to be very careful about the cases they push forward.
You have hit the nail on the head here.
Please provide a source.
I searched the 2004 Republican platform and found no such statement.
Maybe I missed it.
Regardless, believing that tort reform is a states’ issue is a
firmly conservative stance.
Reforming the Litigation System
Americas litigation system is broken. Junk and frivolous lawsuits are driving up the cost of doing business in America by forcing companies to pay excessive legal expenses to fight off or settle often baseless lawsuits. Those costs are being paid by small business owners, manufacturers, their employees, and consumers. A typical small business with $10 million in annual revenue pays about $150,000 a year in tort liability costs. That is money that could be used to invest and hire new employees. Inefficiency and waste in the legal system is costing the average American family of four $1,800 every year, equivalent to an extra 3 percent tax on wages. And the bulk of jury awards to plaintiffs dont even go to the people who deserve it. Injured persons on average collect less than 50 cents of every dollar that the legal system costs. Trial lawyers get rich from the misfortune of others. If small business is Americas economic engine, trial lawyers are the brakes: They cost hundreds of thousands of good jobs, drive honest employers out of business, deprive women of critical medical care then skip out with fat wallets and nary a thought for the economic havoc and human misery they leave in their wake. We praise President Bush and Republicans in Congress for their efforts to reform the legal system by passing meaningful class action reform, asbestos reform, and medical liability reform. And we call to account Senate Democrats and the powerful trial lawyer lobby, who have shown no shame in utilizing obstructionist tactics to thwart the efforts of majorities in Congress to provide meaningful relief to all Americans. The Republican Party reaffirms its support for meaningful reform of the legal system, and will continue its fight to guarantee the rights of all plaintiffs to swift and speedy justice.
Thanks. That wasn’t in either of the two platforms I looked at. I guess they edited a lot out.
Thanks for that post.
Nice to see so many educated and well armed Freepers !!
I was especially fond of the comment that someone made during the “hillary-care” days when she had a team of lawyers working on a government health care plan.
“I’ll accept lawyers’ ideas about health care if we let the doctors develop a plan for tort reform.”
Honestly, I’m very much against Fred on that issue. I think saying it’s a states rights issue is a cop out.
The Romney quote on it is dead on. Fred needs to get his mind right on this issue. I’ve heard rumblings that he is moving his position more towards a federal solution, but nothing definitive.
It’s hard to argue with Fred’s reasoning in this piece...
We praise President Bush and Republicans in Congress for their efforts to reform the legal system by passing meaningful class action reform, asbestos reform, and medical liability reform. And we call to account Senate Democrats and the powerful trial lawyer lobby, who have shown no shame in utilizing obstructionist tactics to thwart the efforts of majorities in Congress to provide meaningful relief to all Americans. The Republican Party reaffirms its support for meaningful reform.....