Democratic candidates and tort reform

by Ted Frank on December 26, 2003

A reader asks, in the wake of our discussion of Dr. Dean’s 1988 letter, whether other candidates have spoken out on tort reform.


It is easiest to judge the senators in the race, because there have been three major tort reform bills in the Senate in the last ten years: the 1995 Private Securities Litigation Reform Act (which passed); the Common Sense Product Liability Reform Act of 1996 (which was vetoed); and the Class Action Fairness Act of this year (which, so far, has been filibustered by 39 Democrats).

As a senator, Joe Lieberman was one of the most prominent Democrats in support of tort reform, including voting for cloture in the debate over the Class Action Fairness Act. On September 11, 2000, his spokesman, Dan Gerstein, told the Wall Street Journal that the tort system “drives up costs, stifles innovation, limits products available to consumers and undercuts the competitive advantage our leading companies have.” Lieberman was on the correct side on the PSLRA and the product liability bill; we earlier reviewed his promising record when he was named to the 2000 Gore ticket (Aug. 8, 2000). His presidential campaign web site, however, makes no mention of the issue.

Senator John Kerry voted for the PSLRA, but against the 1996 product liability reform bill, and absented himself from the cloture vote on the Class Action Fairness Act. Earlier this year, we noted that Kerry spoke at the ATLA convention (Aug. 25) and opposed a Senate effort to require tobacco attorneys to return moneys above $2500/hour that they earned representing state governments in the tobacco settlement (May 9). There is no mention of tort reform on his presidential campaign web site.

Senator John Edwards, of course, made his name as a plaintiffs’ lawyer; trial lawyers are notably among his leading supporters (Apr. 7). He was not in the Senate in 1995-96, but this web site has previously documented Edwards’s opposition to tort reform since he was named to the Gore short-list of VP candidates in 2000 (see also Sep. 16). Sen. Edwards defended the tort system in Newsweek a few weeks back (Dec. 8). We can safely assume he would oppose tort reform.

General Wesley Clark’s web site does not seem to mention tort reform (there is no search engine on the site that would permit us to confirm this), but he has called for an expansion of the ability to sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 1985, Rep. Dick Gephardt made a mild proposal for tort reform in the medical malpractice suits that would make it harder to obtain non-economic damages if the plaintiff refused to accept a settlement for economic damages; in 2000, he criticized an OSHA attempt to regulate home offices of employees. Gephardt’s campaign has extensively criticized Dean’s record as governor (such as Dean’s 1993 support of NAFTA), but has yet to mention his position on tort reform. There is no mention on Gephardt’s web site of tort reform issues.

{ 1 comment }

1 ProfessorBainbridge.com 12.27.03 at 12:40 am

One more reason I like Joe Lieberman

In summing up the Democrat presidential candidates’ positions on tort reform, Walter Olson observes:As a senator, Joe Lieberman was one of the most prominent Democrats in support of tort reform, including voting for cloture in the debate over the Class

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