Legal Topics


Tort and Tort Reform

If you've paid attention to the news in the last few years, you might have heard the phrase "tort reform" tossed around quite a lot, especially when it comes to the issue of healthcare reform. But what does it actually mean?

What is Tort?

Tort is a state of harm that befalls someone as the result of another person's or institution's actions or negligence. Not all torts are considered crimes, but they can still result in legal liability to the offender.

Torts can include such issues as:

* Auto accidents

* Medical malpractice

* False imprisonment

* Copyright infringement

* Environmental pollution

* Defamation

How is Tort Addressed?

When negligence or a harmful act has occurred, the victim of said harm will begin tort proceedings by filing a suit and asking for compensation for damages incurred. The rewards for a victim can be either compensatory (i.e., covering them for the loss or injury they sustained), aggravated (i.e., to correct particular cruelty by the perpetrator), or punitive (i.e., financially deterring the defendant from committing said negligence in the future).

Once a tort has been decided, the steps that follow are standard for any civil lawsuit. First, the plaintiff will have to submit a legal pleading to the appropriate court. Then, once the pleading has been approved, the suit and court summons will be delivered to the defendant by a process server. Actual court proceedings will begin once the defendant acknowledges receipt of the suit.

What is Tort Reform?

Since the middle of the 20th century, legal and medical advocates have emerged to demand a reform of tort law, particularly in the United States. Litigation over real and perceived negligence has become a major source of legal activity in the modern age, putting enormous strain on companies like insurance providers and professionals like doctors and surgeons.

The general idea behind tort reform is to put caps or limits on the amount of money that litigants can be awarded from a suit. This also includes a cap on the amount of money that a defendant would be required to pay in the event of such a lawsuit.

Proponents of tort reform argue that these measures are essential to cutting down on frivolous lawsuits and zealous litigation pursued by "ambulance chaser" attorneys, as well as saving money on paying out excessive settlements. On the other hand, critics of tort reform contend that these laws are designed to remove victims' right to seek a redress for their injury, while legally protecting corporations and other professionals from the consequences of their negligence or malpractice.

The issue of tort reform is still part of a major debate, and while civil acts of litigation remain strong, it's unclear if the reform agenda will be established in most jurisdictions.

Image by Clyde Robinson on Flickr

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