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The Effects of Tort Reform

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susan_harr6 years ago

Tort reform has been a hot button issue for as long as there has been tort litigation, and those on both sides of the issue claim their aim is to help the American people. But when a catastrophic event like the Metrolink-Union Pacific train crash leads to a case as big as the railroad industry itself- it begs the question- just what is best for victims in America?

Tort Litigation and Tort Reform

NOLO “Law for All,” defines tort as “an injury to one person for which the person who caused the injury is legally responsible.” A tort is a civil wrong, as opposed to a criminal wrong. Mass tort is simply a tort that causes injury to many people. Mass tort litigation is when a lawyer or team of lawyers sues on behalf of a group of people, rather than on the behalf of an individual.

Tort reform refers to laws that would reduce tort litigation or damages. Many tort reform laws put a cap on how much victims can receive in lawsuits. Proponents of tort reform claim the costs of litigation and compensation payouts (especially for frivolous lawsuits) end up costing consumers and stunting innovation. Opponents of tort reform point out that when a cap is placed on compensation, many legitimate victims are left out in the cold.

The Amtrak Example

Andrew Cohen wrote an article for the Atlantic which highlights the negative effects tort reform can have on victims. He uses the case of the Metrolink-Union Pacific crash to make his point. Congress passed the Amtrak Reform and Accountability Act in 1997 to help secure the future of the transportation giant. The act, which aimed to “reform the statutes relating to Amtrak,” included a cap on damage awards in all railroad accident cases.

“The aggregate allowable awards to all rail passengers, against all defendants, for all claims, including claims for punitive damages, arising from a single accident or incident, shall not exceed $200,000,000.”

The effects of this ruling became evident after a massive train wreck in California on September 12, 2008 in which twenty-four people were killed and more than 100 were critically injured. The wreck occurred when the driver of a Metrolink passenger train missed a stop light and ran head-on into a Union Pacific freight train. The driver was texting at the time of the accident.

Because of the cap on damages, Metrolink and Veolia (the company which had employed the train’s engineer) paid $200 million to be split between all the victims. Victims had to testify in court, essentially competing with one another for damages. This created a situation in which victims were “triaged” and awarded based on how bad their injuries and losses were in relation to those suffered by the other victims. The judge wrote in his final ruling that essentially “what was given to one victim was taken from another.” He had estimated that proper compensation for each family would require an additional $64 million from Veolia. The company refused, as the law allowed them to.

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Thomas J. Henry is a personal injury law firm with offices in Corpus Christi, Texas and Houston, Texas representing accident victims nationwide. Our priority is to provide our clients with the best legal representation. Our experienced trial attorneys are committed to defending your rights in personal injury matters including defective products, trucking accidents, maritime accidents, and other catastrophic accidents.


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