Wise Words From Former Republican Senator Fred Thompson on the Civil Justice System and “Tort Reform”

fred thompson.jpgFrom time to time, I will post to my blog site the writings of other individuals on legal topics of interest to me. For those familiar with my own blogs, it is clear that I strongly oppose efforts to limit the authority of juries to render just verdicts. Particularly insidious, in my view, are laws that limit damage caps.

For the most part, it is Republicans who are leading the charge on behalf of big business to curtail the rights of individuals to seek redress within the framework of the civil justice system. Profits over People. That Republicans would be leading the charge has always struck me as running counter to their oft-stated message of personal accountability, responsibility, and consequences for bad acts. “Tort Reform,” as big business propogandists like to call it – or, as I prefer to call it, “Tort Deform” – seeks to protect corporations from consequences, accountability, and responsibility.

Sadly, you never hear Republicans, much less prominent Republicans, speaking out against “Tort Reform.” Until now.

Fred Dalton Thompson (born August 19, 1942), is an American politician, actor, attorney, lobbyist, columnist, and radio host. He served as a Republican U.S. Senator from Tennessee from 1994 through 2003, and ran for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. He opposes “Tort Reform.”

The following piece, written by Mr. Thompson, was recently brought to my attention. I found that it contained thoughtful and compelling arguments against “Tort Reform.” Kudos to Mr. Thompson. Here’s the opinion piece:

I have been asked why I want to take part in the discussions when the state legislature considers changes to our civil justice system in Tennessee. I am certainly aware of the ideological boxes that advocates like to put folks in when it comes to “tort reform.”

Republicans and conservatives are supposed to be for anything called tort reform. However, I’ve never subscribed to these boxes. Not when I was in the U.S. Senate faced with these issues, and not now.

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. Conservatism is individual responsibility and accountability for damages caused, even unintentionally. It’s about government closest to the people and equal justice with no special rules for anybody. It’s also about respect for the common-law principle of right to trial by jury in civil cases that was incorporated into the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution.

As someone who practiced in the courts of Tennessee for almost 30 years, I believe that a Tennessee jury of average citizens, after hearing all the facts, under the guidance of an impartial judge and limited by the constraints of our appellate courts, is more likely to render justice in a particular case than would one-size-fits-all rules imposed by government, either state or federal.

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

The legislature has made adjustments to our tort law from time to time. For example, in 2008 a law was passed requiring plaintiffs to get a written statement from a medical professional saying that the lawsuit had merit, thereby reducing medical-malpractice suits. This was reasonable and appropriate. However, never has the legislature imposed a dollar limit in cases where damages and negligence have already been proven.

I recognize that several other states have imposed such rules. It’s understandable. The pressure to do so is very strong. That does not make it right or sound policy. Tennessee does not make a habit of simply following a path that has been cut by others. Forty-one states have a broad-based income tax, and I am proud to say that Tennessee does not, and I believe it is much the better for it.

No system ever devised by man is or can ever be perfect. But our civil justice system has served us well, and any substantial changes to it should be made only if the change is needed, fair and beneficial to all Tennesseans. I hope that I can be helpful in discussions that we will soon be having on these important issues.

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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.

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