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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Senator Fred Thompson: A Refreshing, Conservative, Perspective on Tort Reform

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I have written numerous articles and web logs in opposition to tort reform. I have wondered, loud and long, why conservative politicians, like Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, for instance, can’t tell the truth. Governor Barbour’s version of “Tort reform”, reform that places artificial “caps” on the damages a seriously injured citizen may collect in a lawsuit, does not combat “lawsuit abuse”. The idea that the government should regulate the filing of “frivolous lawsuits” by instituting a damages cap on recoveries is absurd on its face. Why would a “frivolous” lawsuit (by definition, “worthless”) need a “damages cap”?

The untold secret of politically proffered “tort reform” is that it is a dirty deal between the insurance, tobacco, pharmaceutical, and medical communities with politicians who accept campaign contributions from these special corporate interests. Damages caps do not effect “frivolous lawsuits”‘ they effect serious lawsuits, caused by serious negligent conduct and are filed because someone suffered serious, often CATASTROPHIC, injuries. Giving those who cause damage to our health a bailout makes all of us less safe and fails to fairly and appropriate compensate the victims. And what happens when private corporate interests who cause damages and/or accept premiums (at obscene profits) for the risk of those damages do not pay fair compensation? The public, through Medicare, Medicaid and public assistance (i.e. higher taxes) must pick up the tab.

Politicians (usually Republican) like Barbour, who brag about saving costs to the health care system are really facilitating a corporate bailout for rich insurance companies and health care providers, keeping bad doctors in practice, placing an increased burden on public health care programs (higher taxes), and making all of us less safe. I wish these politicians would stop patting themselves on the back and start thinking more about individual citizens instead of corporate campaign contributors.

And that is why I found it so refreshing to read former Senator Fred Thompson’s recent article at Knoxnews.com. Thompson, a conservative Republican, former Senator from Tennessee, and a former candidate for President, writes about the civil justice system (he is speaking about the Tennessee justice system, but his comments relates to the types of proposals that citizens of all 50 States have had to deal with):

“Our system "ain’t broke." It is based upon tradition and common law and has provided justice to individuals and businesses alike”.

What!? A conservative Republican wrote that? Well, you ain’t read nothin’ yet! Here’s more of what he had to say:

“Some argue that the Legislature should tell Tennessee juries that they can award only so much compensation in certain types of cases against certain types of defendants – regardless of the facts and circumstances of the case. I don’t agree with this approach, and I don’t think it’s "conservative." To me, conservatism shows due respect for a civil justice system that is rooted in the U.S. Constitution and is the greatest form of private regulation ever created by society…”

The interesting thing about Senator Thompson’s article is that it mirrors much of what I and others have been saying and writing for months. I have never understood (except as to how loud “money” speaks in “politics”) why it it the Republicans that are almost always on the corporate side of the tort reform debate. After all, tort reform is a form of corporate bailout, something that Republicans have loudly argued against. Tort reform removes responsibility from parties that cause harm and insurance companies that receive premiums for the risks, and shifts those responsibilities and risks to the taxpayers. Republicans have campaigned long and loud in support of lower taxes. Tort reform is a concept where the legislative and executive branches of government usurp the power and discretion of the judicial branch (judge and jury) and mandate recovery limits for seriously injured people. I thought that Republicans were for the separation of powers and keeping government in its place, i.e. “limited government”.

One must assume then, that the only reason, for conservatives, Republican or Democrat, to take pro-tort reform positions, is money, you know, as in “campaign contributions”. Big insurance, big tobacco, big pharmaceutical, the US Chamber of Commerce and the medical community are heavily invested in the campaigns of Republican executive, legislative and judicial branch candidates. It must be money that prevents these politicians from following their own political philosophies when it comes to tort reform.

And, to his credit, Senator Thompson tackles this issue, as well:

“I recognize that several other states have imposed such rules. It’s understandable. The pressure to do so is very strong. Those groups who benefit from such rules are well defined and are very vocal. Those who would be hurt cannot even be identified today. That does not make it right or sound policy”.

The Senator is talking about “political” pressure. “Those groups who benefit from such rules” are, as previously mentioned, tobacco, pharmaceutical, medical and the US Chamber, those who contribute heavily to conservative campaigns. It is very courageous for a conservative Republican to publicly denounce “tort reform”, but Senator Thompson is, refreshingly, true to his conservative convictions, beholding to no one. He is not campaigning for office.

Thank you, Senator Thompson, for this thoughtful perspective. The integrity of the civil justice system should not be a political issue. As Senator Thompson says, trial by jury in civil cases “was incorporated into the Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution”. Therefore it should be guaranteed and not legislated by whichever politician receives the most money from corporate America. Readers: Please take some time to thank Senator Fred Thompson for his courageous and thoughtful article in support of civil justice for all.

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.