Our state legal system should be fair and balanced. North Carolina’s current civil liability, or tort system, is expensive and inefficient, resulting in litigation that adds unnecessary costs to doctors and businesses. Our tort system prevents North Carolina employers from creating and maintaining jobs, while encouraging doctors to either practice defensive medicine or leave our state. If state legislators want an effective solution to creating new jobs and boosting the economy, tort reform should be a legislative priority.
According to the Pacific Research Institute’s “Jackpot Justice Series,” lawsuit abuse costs every American a hidden “tort tax” of about $2,000 a year in higher insurance premiums, lower wages and health benefits, and reduced access to care. In addition, only 15 cents of every tort-cost dollar goes to its actual intended recipient: the plaintiff.
As a result, several states have taken action to rein in this untamed litigation lion. Texas’ success in tort reform has cultivated an environment of job growth, improved healthcare access, and economic prosperity for its citizens. The reforms allowed doctors to avoid excessive medical liability insurance premiums that had previously driven them out of Texas, and for some, out of the medical field. They also curtailed excessive and frivolous lawsuits by stopping class action abuse, protecting innocent people and businesses from product liability claims, and reining in excessive punitive damages.
Consequently, Texas had the highest number of licensed doctors in its history last year and provided care to many previously underserved areas of the state. While setting reasonable limitations on tort litigation, Texas has created a plethora of new jobs and is consistently ranked one of the best places in the country to do business.
North Carolina would benefit from modeling Texas’ tort reform initiatives to entice qualified doctors and respectable businesses to remain in and come to our state. Many trial law groups have advocated ending contributory negligence and switching to comparative negligence. A contributory negligence system ensures that only serious claims are brought forth because if a plaintiff is found partially liable for the incident, the court won’t award damages. Such a system also typically keeps insurance rates and needless defensive court costs down. At the very minimum, a plaintiff who is at least equally at fault should not recover damages.
The doctrine of joint and several liability, where one defendant may be held responsible for the fault of another, should also end. Sued parities should only be held responsible for their share of fault. Furthermore, juries should be provided with accurate and complete information when awarding compensation while punitive damage maximums should be followed.
Another possible reform could include a loser-pays system where a plaintiff pays the defendant’s legal costs if a court determines that the suit is frivolous. The legislator could also set more strictly defined causes-of-action as well as allow courts to expedite legal claims and dismiss those who are obviously groundless or fraudulent.
North Carolina’s legal system should practice the rule of law, not the rule of trial lawyers. Such reforms would allow innocent, respectable employers and doctors to invest their money in job growth and give back to their communities rather than worry about and fight frivolous litigation. Reforms imposing reasonable limitations on lawsuits would enable legitimate claimants to have their day in court while discouraging frivolous, costly, and often fraudulent lawsuits.