Are Many Tort Reform Advocates Hypocrites?

May 12, 2014

That is the conclusion of a thought-provoking piece identifying individuals and corporations who have supported tort reform but use the judicial system to remedy wrongs against themselves. It warns about the danger of this position through the story of Frank Cornelius, an Indiana lobbyist who was involved in capping medical malpractice awards in the state in 1975. After a series of “medical catastrophes” beginning in 1989, Cornelius sued for his more than $5 million in medical expenses and lost wages. The defendants settled for $500,000, the limit on damages implemented by the Indiana tort reform he supported. The lesson from this story has not been taken to heart by advocates of tort reform. The article from Emily Gottlieb, Deputy Director of the Center for Justice and Democracy at New York Law School, names ten individuals and twelve corporations who have engaged in this hypocrisy. The individuals include:

President George W. Bush: As Texas Governor, Bush signed legislation to limit “frivolous lawsuits.” Yet, when his daughter was involved in a minor fender-bender in 1999 that was covered by his insurance, he sued Enterprise Rent-a-Car for renting a vehicle to a driver with a suspended license.

U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.): In 1994, Rick Santorum sponsored a bill to cap non-economic damages at $250,000. Five years later, in 1999, Santorum testified at his wife’s trial seeking compensation of $500,000 in a medical malpractice lawsuit against her chiropractor. The corporations identified either funded or are members of organizations advocating tort reform. Here are a few:

Aetna: The health care insurance company famously ran ads in the 1970s and 1980s to promote tort reform that were so powerful they could convince jurors to arbitrarily reduce personal injury awards. Yet, when they pay money out to customers who do not deserve it, they avail themselves of the litigation process in order to recoup it.

Exxon: The multinational oil and gas corporation supported efforts to limit lawsuits by consumers against insurance companies for unfairly denying claims. However, when Lloyds of London denied its $250 million insurance claim for losses from the Valdez oil spill, it sued and won. View the rest of the list at: