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Tort reform in the states

Lest we get too focused on the Senate shenanigans that continually thwart any tort reform measures at the federal level, the American Tort Reform Association has just published its 2004 Tort Reform Record, which is a comprehensive look at civil justice reforms across the 50 states. Since our civil justice system is generally state common law, anyway, state level reforms are crucial (thought they don't solve the interstate forum-shopping problem that federal reforms like the Class Action Fairness Act are designed to fix).

Noteworthy in the past session was the comprehensive reform enacted in Mississippi, perennially one of the worst places to defend a tort claim. A short legal opinion letter from the Washington Legal Foundation lays out the basic tenets of the Mississippi reforms. The changes included a strong reform of joint and several liability (defendants can now only be held liable for their share of the damages, unless part of a common, concerted effort to commit a tortuous act); an "innocent sellers" provision, which should keep retailers from being added to product liability suits to establish jurisdiction (a famous example is the Bankston Drugstore in Jefferson County, which was a defendant in scores of pharmaceutical suits in that magnet court jurisdiction); and a provision encouraging jury service, along the lines of the American Legislative Exchange Council's model Jury Patriotism Act. The reform also includes high caps on noneconomic damages ($500,000 for medical malpractice, $1 million otherwise); a punitive damages reform I'm not too fond of (it indexes a punitives cap to a defendant's net worth); and venue reforms.

In addition to Mississippi, sixteen other states adopted reforms this year. Read ATRA's report for more information.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.