The civil justice system has become a front-and-center issue for some federal lawmakers now intent on achieving long-standing tort reform goals. According to the Washington Post, conservative lawmakers have proposed a several bills that could have a powerful impact on the access and outcomes plaintiffs can expect in civil tort cases.
An experienced injury attorney should be consulted by anyone who has been harmed and who wishes to pursue a claim for compensation through the civil justice system. As these proposed changes underscore, that may become more important than ever before in the years to come.
The bills proposed could have a potential chilling effect on civil injury claims, particularly those for consumer rights and medical malpractice. One of measures which have already passed the House, bill H.R. 985, would require federal judges to impose sanctions upon attorneys who file civil cases that are alleged to be "frivolous." The goal of this regulation would be to fight unnecessary lawsuits, which some lawmakers argue is a big problem.
In reality, frivolous lawsuits are not a serious problem because the proof burdens required to bring a lawsuit in the first place is already quite high - particularly for cases of medical negligence. Further, the term "frivolous" is fairly broad and somewhat subjective. Without clear-cut guidelines, injury attorneys could start steering clear of many different kinds of injury lawsuits - which is going to hamper the ability of those injured to successfully bring a claim.
It should be noted too that similar regulations have been put into place in the past and had to be rescinded. The rules on imposing sanctions had to be rescinded because they resulted in attorneys not filing civil rights claims or filing important claims arising under environmental laws or employment laws.
Another proposal which has been put forth would impose a damage cap on medical malpractice claims. Victims hurt by their doctors would not be allowed to recover compensation of more than $250,000 for non-economic damages. Non-economic damages cover things like pain and suffering and emotional distress. There are already caps at the state level in some locations, but a federal rule would make it impossible for any victim throughout the United States to have a chance at full compensation. The court who hears individual cases should be deciding on appropriate non-economic damages, which are awarded for things like pain. This is not something which should be decided by a legislature on a broad basis.
There are other proposals which have been put forth as well, which would restrict the ability to file federal class actions and which would move some cases from state to federal courts, which tend to be less friendly to the rights of plaintiffs. If these proposals pass, a major shift would occur in the ability of victims to get compensation. Hiring an experienced attorney will become more important than ever as victims will need an attorney who knows how to work within the reformed civil justice system to help them maximize the compensation available for serious losses they experience.