Tort Reform: Caps On Damages Add Insult to Injury in SC

Tort reform, i.e. limits on the amount of compensation injured people can recover in a lawsuit, is a popular refrain for many South Carolina politicians. In theory, tort reform makes sense; in practice, it leads to great injustice. If you think I am saying this only because I am a personal injury lawyer, consider the following:  

On March 19, 2011, parents and children climbed onto “Sparkles,” a mini-train in Spartanburg, SC.  As the train went around for its third lap, it launched off the track, injuring dozens of passengers and killing six-year-old, Benji Easler. 

In the crash’s aftermath, many disheartening facts were uncovered: the train was traveling nearly three times as fast as it should have been when it derailed; it had a history of repeated brake and wheel failures; and the train’s operator falsified safety records.

Benji Easler’s siblings, mother and father — Pastor for the Corinth Baptist Church — were among the 27 others injured.

On March 23, 2011 church members met with a Spartanburg County insurance adjuster, who told them there was a $600,000 total limit to pay any and all claims - including the Easler's wrongful death claim. The figure is an insult when compared with the value of a child's life, not to mention the trauma the other 27 victims experienced. 

Tort reform places an artificial cap on the damages families may receive after a crash, act of medical malpractice, or wrongful death. If the goal is responsibility, if the purpose is to accurately account for a loss so needless, tort reform prevents both aims. Instead, it tells negligent drivers, doctors, and corporations that their finances come ahead of community safety.     

Politicians, lobbyists, and special interest groups celebrate tort reform until in touches their district or family. It is not until tragedies such as the train crash in Spartanburg, that politicians are forced to examine the consequences of their decisions on injured people and survivors. Like all other legislative acts, tort reform must be viewed not through the lens of political expediency, but with an eye toward its effects. Our legislature must demonstrate foresight. Most of all, they must place their constituents first – ahead of party, ideology, interest groups, and self. Only then can tort reform advance the greater good; only then will tort reform prevent rather than increase injustice in South Carolina.

If you have questions about tort reform in South Carolina and how it is harming our communities, call me today at (803) 790-2800.

(Source www2.wspa.com, March 25, 2011)

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