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Insurance and the Myth of “Tort Reform”

The Clark Law Firm, PC

New Jersey Personal Injury Accident Attorney

Insurance and the Myth of “Tort Reform”

You’re not in good hands, they’re not there for you and in the end you will not save money.

We all may be familiar with recent stories in the news about corporate America’s “attack on the middle class.” These stories talk about that attack coming in various forms, whether it be higher taxes on the middle class, cuts in education or lack of economic opportunity. The large corporations and insurance companies have been successfully waging another battle on the middle class for decades – the tort reform battle.

Corporate and insurance America’s tort reform battle comes in the form of a two pronged attack. The first is an aggressive, relentless lobby campaign where these corporate and insurance interests try to convince state and federal lawmakers to pass legislation designed to limit the ordinary citizen’s rights of access to the courts to bring a lawsuit when they have been injured or wronged. The second front comes in the form of a public relation disinformation campaign designed to demonize personal injury lawyers who stand up for the ordinary citizen who may have been injured in an accident or defrauded in some way. Often this campaign is based on false propaganda type sound bytes like “money hungry trial lawyers” or ”frivolous lawsuits.”

When someone is injured in an accident (whether in New Jersey, New York, or elsewhere), more often than not the person or business who caused the injury will have some kind of insurance to cover the loss. For example, if Jim Smith is severely injured in an auto accident caused by Steve Jones, Smith may be able to bring a lawsuit against Jones to recover compensation for the suffering, injures, medical bills and lost wages. Smith’s injuries may keep him out of work and threaten his ability to care for himself or provide for his family. Often, in a case like this the medical bills alone can be tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. When you consider trying to come up with a fair amount to compensate Smith for his severe injuries; to “make him whole”, the value of that case can be in the hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars. Most “Steve Joneses” of the world don’t have that kind of money sitting around – that is where the large insurance companies come in.

In most personal injury and car accident cases, the person or business who is being sued will have some kind of insurance. That insurance will be required to both pay for the personal injury lawyers to represent them, and will pay any settlement or judgment a jury may award up to the applicable policy limits. For example, in the Smith v. Jones case, let’s say Jones has an auto insurance policy written by “XYZ Insurance Company.” XYZ Insurance will hire lawyers to represent Jones in the lawsuit and pay any settlement or verdict a jury may award. Thus, while the case will be called “Smith v. Jones,” in a certain sense the case is actually “Smith v. Jones’ Insurance Company, XYZ Insurance.”

XYZ Insurance wants to collect Smith’s auto insurance premium every month. However, when Smith causes severe injuries to Jones by not paying attention on the road, XYZ does not want to pay Jones any money – this is where corporate and insurance America’s tort reform campaign comes in. XYZ, and its friends in the insurance industry, will spends millions of dollars each year lobbying lawmakers to make it increasingly difficult for Smith to bring a lawsuit against Jones. And even if Smith can bring the lawsuit, they will do all they can to get laws passed to make it harder for Smith to win his lawsuit, or to place more limits on how much Smith can recover in his case.

Even if the lawmakers hold strong and fend off the pressure from the corporate and insurance industry lobbyists, XYZ will not give up. They will proliferate a campaign of disinformation in the print and broadcast media, on talk shows, and countless other places to demonize lawyers who represent the Jim Smith’s of the world. They will proliferate a myth of “frivolous lawsuits” to make jurors inherently biased against Smith’s lawyer and Smith’s case, even prior to hearing a shred of evidence in the case. A fascinating book which provides an historical account of the tort reform movement and its impact on the rights of ordinary citizens today is Blocking the Courthouse Door by Stephanie Mencimer. The American Association for Justice provides another compelling account of the corporate-proliferated frivolous lawsuit myth at: http://web.archive.org/web/20080111034421/http://www.atla.org/pressroom/facts/frivolous/index.aspx.

A fascinating article was written in the New York Law School Law Review by Robert Peck and John Vail entitled, “Blame it on the Bee Gees: The Attack on Trial Lawyers and Civil Justice.” This article talks in detail about how the insurance industry has for centuries used trial lawyers as a surrogate for what they are really after – limiting the ordinary citizen’s right of access to the courts to seek civil justice.

Most New Jersey personal injury or accident lawsuits have an insurance company “behind the scenes” calling all the shots – they orchestrate the defense of the litigation and secretly influence how the lawyer assigned to represent Jones handles the case. Insurance is mandatory in many facets of life. For example, when someone is hurt on a construction site, by law the employer must carry worker’s compensation insurance. All construction contractors in New Jersey are required to carry at least $500,000 in general liability insurance to cover workplace safety violation and other accident cases. All drivers in New Jersey must carry auto insurance. Mortgage companies require homeowners to carry homeowner’s insurance. The list goes on.

Make no mistake. Tort reform is nothing more than a campaign of fog to prevent the ordinary citizen from making his or her way to the courthouse to seek civil justice. This campaign does not reflect reality and is designed to do one thing and one thing only – maximize the record profits of the large corporations and insurance companies at the expense of the middle class. Decades of this tort reform campaign have made this fog thicker and thicker. As a result, representing the injured and wronged has become more difficult, and a successful injury lawsuit requires increasingly specialized legal representation.

In the ever-thickening tort reform fog that corporate and insurance America has placed on the course you may have chartered in life, the Clark Law Firm, PC has the specialized legal talent you need to be your guiding light in your accident or injury lawsuit. Contact the Clark Law Firm, PC today for a free consultation.

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