What is tort reform, anyway?

If you look in the dictionary, you’ll see the word tort and the word torture have the same root – the latin word for "twisted". Think of a tort as torture without criminal intent. Or, in nicer words "a wrongful act other than a breach of contract for which relief may be obtained in the form of damages or an injunction."

Although some countries have eliminated tort law, the United States continues to operate on the theory that if someone has injured another person, they are liable for the damages caused, with some exceptions.

The main objective of current tort reform in the United States is to minimize the amount of damages a person can receive for being injured. Secondary purposes of tort reform include making it harder or more expensive for an individual to make a tort claim, eliminating an individual’s ability to make a claim in court, or effectively eliminating rights in small value claims. In other words, those in favor of tort reform want to minimize the cost of the wrongful acts they (or their insureds) commit.

I suppose minimizing the harm you cause is a natural tendency. In fact, I can relate. As I was changing the clock to adjust for Daylight Saving Time, I put it back on the wall only to watch it slip and fall to the ground. I was a little careless and the clock didn’t hook onto the wall correctly. I felt stupid -the Latin word for "numb" – because I saw it coming. I wanted to blame someone for my negligence. I said sorry multiple times. But the harm had been done. There was a known cost for the clock ($40), an unknown cost for damage to the floor (putty?), and intangible damages (my wife loved that clock). The inner child in me wanted to back in time and prevent the damage. Unfortunately, my self-hypnotic powers are minimal. So, I am buying a new clock, fixing the floor, and maybe even shopping for flowers. And my wife didn’t even have to sue me for it.


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