The Tort Wars–It’s Not Over Yet


The New York Times reports that the tort reform wars are not over.  (See “To the Trenches:  The Tort War is Raging On”, Sunday Business Section, June 22, 2008, p. 1, www.nytimes.com.)

In essence the so-called tort reform forces headed by the United States Chamber of Commerce and the American Tort Reform Association have claimed many victories and future battles to be won.   However, the prime force for regular Americans, the American Association for Justice (www.atla.org), says that the battle is not over yet.

The so-called tort reform lobbies have claimed some victories over the last decade.  One example is the abolition of vicarious liability on rental cars.  Until the tort reformers got their way in Congress, New York law made the owner of a rental car (such as Hertz or Avis) fully responsible for a motor vehicle accident.  The owner was “vicariously liable” for the wrongs of the renter of the car.  This rule withstood the onslaught of the insurance and car rental lobbies in the New York legislature, however, these lobbies were able to do an end-run and get this rule abolished in the U.S. Congress.

The tort reform lobbies have also made gains in public relations and attitudes toward lawsuits.  The New York general public has become very hostile to injury lawsuits.   This hostility is very strong in Manhattan which used to be considered a liberal county favoring plaintiffs.  Even Bronx and Kings County jurors, the most favorable jury pools for plaintiffs, have become more skeptical.

However, the forces for the common man, the American Association for Justice (www.atla.org) and the New York State Trial Lawyers Association (www.nystla.org) have kept-up the fight.  At times they stood alone against the power and money of the tort reform lobbies.  For example, in New York, NYSTLA has been able to hold-back the tort reformers’ efforts to gut protections for construction workers, such as the repeal of Labor Law 240 (1).

We agree with The Times.  The battle is not over yet.

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