Barack Obama and tort reform: is he really bipartisan?

by Ted Frank on May 27, 2008

In an interview of Senator Barack Obama on Fox News, Chris Wallace questioned Obama’s claims of being a post-partisan leader who reached across the aisle.  In response, Obama identified his support of the Class Action Fairness Act tort reform bill.  Is this persuasive evidence of bipartisan behavior?  I explore the question in today’s Examiner.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Is Obama Really Bipartisan About The Litigation Lobby? « Tai-Chi Policy
06.01.08 at 1:37 pm
On Weekend Good Morning America
06.06.08 at 12:06 pm

{ 8 comments }

1 michael 05.28.08 at 3:55 pm

I would argue that he is entirely bipartisan, in that he has the same apathetic non-stance on tort reform as the Republicans, who controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency for 6 years and barely made even the smallest baby steps towards reform.

2 Ted 05.28.08 at 4:21 pm

The Republicans had a majority of the Senate, but they did not “control” the Senate, which requires 60 votes; thus, a minority of Democrats were able to block tort reform on a number of issues.

3 David Rowell 05.28.08 at 11:58 pm

“Tort reform” is code for “Hey, I’m making a lot of money selling that [drug][product][procedure][whatever] and I want to keep it ALL, regardless of how many people are injured.”

Supporters of tort reform have either (1) never been injured because of someone else’s carelessness; (2) never had a friend or family member injured because of another’s carelessness; or (3) really don’t care because its all about the money.

Like every trial lawyer I know, I represent injured people who can’t get a fair shake without a lawyer’s help. Why should only the rich and powerful be able to use the legal system?

David Rowell
Trial Lawyer
proud member of InjuryBoard.com

4 Ted Frank 05.29.08 at 12:10 am

Tort reform is about making the legal system fairer and more accurate. If a tort reform doesn’t make consumers better off, I don’t support it. Unfortunately, the legal system is so far gone in favor of extracting wealth from productive sectors of the economy and transferring it to attorneys that most tort reforms on the table would drastically improve consumer welfare. It’s gotten to the point where trial lawyers are adversely affecting public safety because they’re putting their own profits before people.

I am a tort reformer. I’ve taken Vioxx; I’ve had debilitating side effects from prescription medication; I’ve had pain and suffering from medical misdiagnosis; I’ve even had to go to a hospital after injuring myself using a product that did not have a warning. Heck, I’m even obese after eating cheeseburgers.

Like every tort reformer I know, I support tort reform because the legal system has gone amuck and tort reform will make consumers and the economy better off. In my case, it’s against my self-interest because it hurts my income-earning potential as an attorney. (And I took a substantial pay cut to work on legal reform issues full time.) Mr. Rowell owes me an apology for his ignorant stereotyping of me, but owes the American people an even bigger apology for opposing good public policy for his own selfish ends.

Trial lawyers can attempt to misrepresent the arguments for tort reform as Mr. Rowell does here, but they cannot fool the American public from recognizing the fact that the legal system has become divorced from common sense, in large part because of the litigation lobby.

5 Walter Olson 05.29.08 at 12:26 am

Or, to re-edit Rowell’s words slightly:

“‘No loser-pays rule’ is code for ‘Hey, I’m making a lot of money suing people and I want to keep it ALL, regardless of how many people are injured.”

“Opponents of a loser-pays rule have either (1) never been injured by the costs of responding to someone else’s erroneous legal claim; (2) never had a friend or family member injured by such costs; or (3) really don’t care because it’s all about the money.”

Of course, that would be a sad caricature of the many reasons by which people might come to disagree in good faith on the subject of whether litigants should be held financially responsible for all the harms they inflict on others. It would be no worse, though, than Rowell’s tantrum-y outburst.

6 William Nuesslein 05.29.08 at 6:32 am

Mr. Rowell misses the social policy aspect of the tort reform debate. We all want access to safe automobiles, appliances, pencils, and other things that comprise much of our standards of living. The question is: How do we make these things safe and available at reasonable prices? The answer is through engineering. Such engineering has given us jet engines with fantastically small failure rates.

Randomly selected juries of laymen can not understand engineering, so that product liability trials tend to be expensive wigi boards that only tax consumers to fund trial lawyers. And how does your concept of fair shake handle the multitude of actual false claims submitted in the asbestos litigation?

7 Deoxy 05.29.08 at 11:14 am

While I agree with what both Ted and Walter said, here’s a slightly different way to answer Mr InjuryBoard.com:

Why should only the rich and powerful be able to use the legal system?

Because they are the only ones who are targetted by the legal system.

Seriously, when was the last time you, oh mighty trial lawyer, sued somebody who didn’t have a large amount of money? One reason the “rich and powerful” may seem to care about tort reform more is that they are the only ones who have something at stake in the matter.

“a fair shake” would be a system that dispenses justice regardless of finances. We clearly don’t have such a system – therefore, it needs to be changed: “reformed”.

8 Ted Frank 05.29.08 at 11:40 am

One reason the “rich and powerful” may seem to care about tort reform more is that they are the only ones who have something at stake in the matter.

This isn’t true. As I have argued, the lack of tort reform hurts the poor, and makes income inequality worse.

Comments on this entry are closed.