Law, government regulations and tort “reform”

A topic I’ve written about, if only tangentially.

Yesterday’s Times had a great letter, one of those responding to the letter of the week — the Times publishes one every week concerning an interesting topic and asks for comments for the Sunday edition.

This week’s letter and comments concerned government regulation. All the comments were good. This one, because it deal with the ancillary matter of litigation against corporations that damage us, is terrific:

Historically, regulation was perceived by advocates of small government as problematic for two main reasons. From a political perspective, it was seen as beyond the purview of what government should be doing, which ideally was nothing more than ensuing public order and stable money. From an economic perspective, it was seen as inefficient.

If regulation was intended to prevent the public from harm (for example, pollution, unsafe working conditions or hazardous products), litigation was construed as a more efficient way to ensure that outcome. The threat of having to pay damages to an injured party was to provide sufficient disincentive to industry to engage in unsafe practices.

What is so disturbing about the tort reform movement, supported by industries and legislators that also rail against regulation, is that it leaves the public with no recourse against corporation excess. Not only are we subject to harm from unregulated industry, but awards for the damages we suffer are limited as well.

Call for tort reform and against regulation are not ideological, despite what right- and libertarian-leaning legislators affirm. They are cynical and antisocial.

–Shari Jacobson, Selinsgrove, Pa., May 29, 20913. The writer is an associate professor of anthropology at Susquehanna University.


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