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Tort reform would reduce the number of tort cases, and the dollar amounts rewarded in them. The majority of tort cases focus on personal injury, but includes any situation where personal property, reputation, mind or body is injured. More than anything else, advocates of tort reform seek to control the amount of compensation that is given in various situations.
Tort itself is a subjective area of law. It refers to any injury or act against a person that causes harm, and does not involve contracts. Interpreting what qualifies as legitimate injury for a law suit can be difficult to do. Placing a dollar amount on that law suit can be equally challenging. Supporters of tort reform believe that the inexact nature of tort has allowed claims and payments on those claims to skyrocket.
There are various types of proposed tort reform. If reform occurs, it would be in small chunks of legislation, each pointing to a specific area of tort. Two specific areas that have garnered much public scrutiny are punitive damages and non-economic damages.
Punitive damages are sums of money paid to punish a criminal while acting as a deterrent to future similar criminals. These sums of money are usually awarded when the crime is particularly heinous or malicious. Non-economic damages are any money that is paid to compensate the injured party for pain and suffering. This can include the loss of a spouse or loved one.
Supporters of tort reform believe that the number of lawsuits has increased greatly over the past 20 years, and that the damages paid out have become increasingly large. They attribute social issues like rising health care costs largely to medical malpractice suits. Advocates wish to see reform that would cap non-economic damages, and prevent excessive punitive damages among other key changes.
Opponents of tort reform believe that limiting these damages is unconstitutional, and would have a number of negative effects. They believe that corporations would consider monetary loss before public welfare, if given the choice. They say that corporations are less likely to consider the cost of human loss, as opposed to economic loss for a company, if there are limitations to how much they would have to pay out in wrongful death lawsuits. They believe that limiting payouts will limit personal freedoms and choices.
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