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New York City Injury Plaintiffs Rights at Risk if Federal Tort Reforms Clear Hurdles

The civil justice system levels the playing field between individuals and powerful entities. When someone is hurt, a victim can use the civil justice system to pursue a claim for damages. Civil lawsuits make it possible for patients to sue for compensation of losses caused by the negligence or wrongdoing of others. Defendants in these cases include:

  • Property owners (premises liability)US Court House
  • Doctors (medical malpractice)
  • Product manufacturers (product liability)
  • Insurance companies (bad faith insurance)

Plaintiffs in these cases can expect a fair chance to present their claim in civil court against entities with deep pockets.

Unfortunately, proposed changes to the civil justice system could undermine the ability of consumers to use the court system to obtain full and fair compensation. Victims need to understand how changes to the law could impact them so they are prepared.

It is also important for anyone who has been injured and is mulling a lawsuit to seek advice from an experienced injury attorney. Getting legal help can ensure you protect your rights as you try to make your claim. In addition, the advice and guidance from a trusted lawyer can often make it possible for you to maximize compensation in settlements or court cases.

If tort laws changed and the civil justice system is modified, having a lawyer may be more important than ever, as your attorney can help you to navigate the updated system.

Proposed Changes to the Civil Justice System

The Washington Post reported on some of the proposed changes to the civil justice system that Republicans are trying to implement through a series of bills. Some of these changes include:

  • Limiting the amount of non-economic damages a malpractice victim can collect to $250,000 after the victim is hurt by a doctor. The limits would cap compensation for pain and suffering and other non-financial loss. Although some states have already implemented damage caps, this would be the first federal limit applicable throughout the country that prevents victims of medical negligence from getting the full amount of compensation the court believes is appropriate.
  • Shifting some responsibility to the federal system, instead of the state system where civil claims are usually heard. State courts are often more sympathetic to plaintiffs.
  • Restricting federal class actions. New rules would allow class actions to move forward in federal court only under circumstances where all members of the class were injured in the same way and faced the same scope of harm.
  • A Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, which would result in federal judges having the authority to sanction attorneys who are later found to have filed a frivolous claim on behalf of clients.
  • A Stop Settlement Slush Fund Act, which would cut off certain settlement payments to third parties, outside of making restitution and compensating for actual harm.

These changes are supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as by other special interest business groups. Supporters of tort reform claim the courts have become too tolerant of frivolous lawsuits. The supporters of reforming the civil justice system believe too much money is being wasted and changes to the rules are necessary to bring down prices, especially in healthcare.

Most democrats opposed the changes for a diverse array of reasons including arguing the bills are moving through Congress too fast and arguing the bills would hurt consumers. Center for Justice and Democracy at New York Law School also reported spoke out against the proposed changes in an open letter to the house judiciary which called the changes an attack on civil justice. With so much opposition, the extent of change which will occur is still unknown. If tort reform efforts succeed, victims should ensure they find attorneys who can help them navigate the new rules to obtain as much compensation as possible under the law.

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