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“Tort Reform”-A Chance for President Elect Obama to Fight Injustice

Since our historic election of Barak Obama, a week ago, I have seen several articles that suggest that the subject of “tort reform” (which is really means “anti-justice” and “pro-insurance company”) will be a hot political issue in his administration.

First, CQ reports: “One early policy battle in the Obama years will probably be the question of ‘tort reform…plaintiffs’ attorneys are keen to reverse Bush-era restrictions on tort litigation, while business groups fear that a Democrat-dominated federal government will do the bidding of the Democrats’ influential trial-lawyer base of donors and expand plaintiffs’ rights in tort cases… Barack Obama may well disappoint both advocacy factions.”

Obama cast a 2005 Senate vote for a law shifting class action lawsuits to federal courts, considered a major business community priority. Linda Lipsen, senior vice president for public affairs of the American Association for Justice, said that while Obama’s 2005 vote is ‘a concern,’ “…we are comfortable with our new president’s priorities.” According to CQ, the AAJ plans to press for an expansion on the right to sue for injuries related to faulty medical devices and for legislation barring companies from requiring customers to arbitrate rather than sue. Despite the outcome of the election, a spokesperson for the US Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform warned that “victory at the polls does not mean voters ‘want Congress to give the plaintiffs’ bar more ways to sue.'”

To further indicate that war is about to be waged on the liability front, the National Law Journal reports that “business and trial lawyers are expected to go head-to-head again over tort-related issues, but congressional experts now give the trial lawyers significantly more heft in the new Congress.” David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, said that another “big agenda item” are “reversals of the Bush administration’s expansion of federal pre-emption of state tort lawsuits in a number of regulated areas [and, in the workplace,] removing the current $300,000 cap on compensatory damages and punitive damages for violations of Title VII and the Americans With Disabilities Act.”

It is also important to note that President Obama will appoint several federal district court and appellate court judges during his administration, including probable appointments to the United States Supreme Court. Thus, the battle lines are drawn and we should have a very interesting 4-8 years (at both state and federal levels) monitoring the simple right to civil justice in this country.

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