Tort reform backers win some battles to reduce liability risks

Business Insurance
Monday, November 3, 2008

Tort reform has been losing traction at the federal level and is facing increasing challenges at the state level as well, say civil justice reform advocates.

An opponent of tort law changes said the fact that pro-business forces face greater challenges is hardly surprising.

"I think the main thing that drives this spurt of activity of tort reform is insurance rates," said Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice & Democracy in New York. "And we have seen a stabilizing of the insurance market since at least 2005 and 2006, so the pressure that the insurance industry and policyholders have exerted on lawmakers has dissipated substantially because rates have stabilized."

Ms. Doroshow said that "related to that, you see states where no tort reform was enacted, like Connecticut, Washington and Pennsylvania," also experienced drops in insurance rates. That "just confirms our view that (tort reform) is not what drives insurance rates."

The public simply isn't interested in tort reform, she said. "It's been…demonstrated that voters don't care about this issue. Clearly, I think lawmakers understand that this is not registering with voters, that people don't care about it."

Keeping people thinking about civil justice issues is one of the key tasks that tort reform advocates face.

"Our view is civil justice reforms are not one-time events," said Ms. Rickard. "I think businesses understand that fundamentally, that you can't go in and try to advance reforms to have a more balanced system and then walk off the playing field. You've got to stay engaged—it's a long-term fight and you have to keep the commitment up." ...

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