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Statue of JusticeContacting an experienced personal injury attorney is a crucial step after a serious auto injury caused by someone else’s negligence. Once a lawyer is retained, he or she will deal directly with insurance companies so the victim can focus on healing. An attorney knowledgeable in such cases has the best chance of helping a victim receive optimum financial recovery. Minnesotans hurt because of the careless actions of others are fortunate, up to this point, because our state has not passed laws capping financial recoveries in personal injury claims, which benefits only wrongdoers and their insurers.

Years-long propaganda campaigns by business and trade group interests that favor “tort reform” have left many in Minnesota and elsewhere with the belief that personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits may sometimes be frivolous, are costly to all Americans, and are harmful to the economy. These false and dangerous narratives are really designed to be “jury tampering,” predisposing potential jurors from awarding just compensation for pain and suffering, loss of function due to permanent impairment, loss of companionship of a loved one, and past and future medical costs, lost wages, and other damages, as well.

In 1993, 10 in 1,000 Americans filed tort lawsuits (the category that includes motor vehicle negligence, medical malpractice, flawed products and other civil cases where victims seek redress from wrongs), said the Wall Street Journal in an article dated July 24, 2017, quoting the National Center for State Courts data. Most civil cases are filed in state courts rather than federal courts.

In 2015, 22 years later, fewer than 2 in 1,000 Americans filed such cases. Clearly, the court system isn’t overwhelmed with tort cases, which today make up less than 5% of the 15 million civil cases filed in state courts, notes the same Wall Street Journal article.

While other factors may play a role in this decline, a growing stigma and the harsh realities of tort reform mean some victims either choose not to seek relief in the court system or are economically barred from doing so. One economic barrier can be that, under tort reform laws, some types of cases aren’t likely to result in awards high enough to justify the cost to pursue the case.

Tort reform laws often target “noneconomic” damages. The general public – and therefore jurors – tend to support the idea of awarding victims compensation for economic damages. So, plaintiffs may be successful in recovering lost wages or past and future medical costs. However, when noneconomic damages are capped by states, victims may be limited in how much they can be compensated for losing the companionship of a loved one who is killed or for the loss of enjoyment of life due to permanent impairment.

One very sad example of this is when an infant or toddler is killed because of negligence. Without loss of income, economic awards in a death case are generally limited to medical costs, burial costs and funeral costs. A cap on noneconomic damages means the overall compensation to parents for the loss of their child may be relatively small, no matter the circumstances. Yet, of course, the loss of a child is devastating. While no financial award can compensate for such a tragedy, it may provide economic stability for a grieving family. Society may benefit from such a case when a bad practice is remedied or a flawed product is improved or removed from the market.

Tort reform advocates claim insurance premiums rise because of personal injury lawsuits. In particular, this claim is made in regard to medical malpractice insurance for doctors. Physician groups have argued that high premiums due to malpractice lawsuits have driven doctors out of practice. However, malpractice insurance premiums in three high-risk specialties (internal medicine, general surgery, and obstetrics/gynecology) actually experienced a greater increase in states where tort reform laws have been passed than in states without caps.1 To be perfectly frank, the insurance industry makes most of its money on investment income.  However, collecting premiums for covering unlikely risks is an added benefit to insurers.

In fact, though Minnesota has no caps on medical malpractice awards, the average cost of malpractice insurance is lower here than the national average.2,3

Similarly, auto insurance premiums don’t rise because of “out of control” personal injury lawsuits. They do rise as a result of state laws, such as minimum required coverages and required no-fault insurance coverage.

Another argument by those who lose when consumers receive justifiable, significant awards due to serious injury from faulty products is that such awards somehow “hurt” the American economy, notes University of Texas at Austin School of Law Professor Emeritus Frank B. Cross.4 These advocates claim such costs have a chilling effect on innovation and manufacturing of new products, totally disregarding the costs to the economy of losing production from injured workers or increased health care costs borne by all consumers due to injuries sustained from defective products. This stance also fails to consider the effect a strong tort system has in inhibiting businesses from producing faulty products or consumer confidence in buying products knowing they have strong laws protecting them and allowing them to recover damages if they are injured.

The car manufacturing industry is, of course, a prime example of big corporations repeatedly choosing cheap, flawed parts to increase profits in return for risking lives. It can take years for government regulators to act even as people die in crash after crash related to a faulty part or design. Tort reform advocates fail to consider the full cost to surviving loved ones, or society at large, when they say personal injury and wrongful death cases are expensive. When a company makes flawed products and is forced through a lawsuit to financially compensate victims, business interest groups say that money is a cost to Americans. That’s simply not true. After all, as Frank Cross points out, that money is not “lost.” The burden, however, is shifted from injured consumers, their dependents and health insurers back to the responsible parties who stood to benefit from the sale of shoddy products.

If you’ve been hurt due to someone else’s fault, or if you have lost a loved one due to another’s negligence, you need to contact a lawyer experienced in personal injury and wrongful death cases. Our law firm has recovered more than $125 million on behalf of victims and we are ready to assist you.

Besides Rochester, we serve the following major southeast Minnesota cities: Red Wing, Winona, Mankato, Austin, Albert Lea, and Owatonna, and all outlying communities, as well as the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, and Bloomington. We also serve the Iowa cities of Mason City, Charles City, Osage, Spencer, Garner, Forest City, and Northwood and the Wisconsin cities of La Crosse, Onalaska, Sparta, Viroqua, River Falls, Ellsworth, Whitehall, and Black River Falls.

 

1 Lucinda M. Finley, The Hidden Victims of Tort Reform: Women, Children, and the Elderly, 53 Emory L.J. 1263 (2004). Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.buffalo.edu/articles/198 (citing Martin D. Weiss et al., Weiss Ratings Inc., Medical Malpractice Caps: The Impact of Noneconomic Damage Caps on Physician Premiums, Claims Payout Levels, and Availability of Coverage 7-8 (2003), available at http:/www.weissratings.com/malpractice.asp

2 Capson Physicians Insurance Company. “Medical Malpractice Insurance Cost Average | Capson.” By Specialty – Medical Malpractice Insurance Cost & Statistics, www.capson.com/cost-of-medical-malpractice-insurance.

3 Capson Physicians Insurance Company. “By State – Medical Malpractice Insurance Costs & Minimums.” By Specialty – Medical Malpractice Insurance Cost & Statistics, www.capson.com/medical-malpractice-insurance-by-state#minnesota.

4 “Tort Law and the American Economy.” Minnesota Law Review, www.minnesotalawreview.org/articles/tort-law-american-economy/

 

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