Wednesday, August 24, 2005

George Lakoff Discusses "Tort Reform"


Restrictions on tort lawsuits and other kinds of lawsuits are issues near and dear to conservative hearts. The following interview with Rockridge Senior Fellow, George Lakoff, explores various aspects of “tort reform,” including the manner in which conservatives have framed the discussion, the problem with the progressive response so far, and ideas for more effective progressive framing of the debate.

Q: Professor Lakoff, why have conservatives made such a major issue of “tort reform” and “lawsuit abuse”?

Lakoff: For two main reasons. The conservative worldview includes the fundamental belief that business is only about profits. They believe that anything that interferes with the opportunity to maximize profits, including the range of protections that are so important for society, should be eliminated or at least severely restricted. And of course, lawsuits to compensate for injuries and to punish those who knowingly caused them are some of those socially important protection mechanisms that can diminish profits.

So, the right wing is attempting to destroy this system by promoting legislation to eliminate punitive damages and cap compensatory damages to relatively small sums. This legislation benefits business both by minimizing the risk of any single suit and by creating a disincentive for lawyers to take cases. Lawyers have to spend their own money to search for evidence of harm, to put together a case, and to prosecute the trial. Their compensation, if any, is a percentage of the “recovery” — the compensatory and punitive damages. Though the lawyers' fees sound high, most of those fees go to support the system. If damages are capped or eliminated, the system will break down for lack of funding.

The attack on tort suits also amounts to an attack on those lawyers who represent injured parties. Those lawyers have historically supported progressive causes and candidates. Not to put too fine a point on it, conservatives want to dry up the flow of contributions from trial lawyers by squeezing their source of income.

Whole Q and A article here.

Info on George Lakoff here.


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