Tort Reform: Is It Good For America?

Jun 10, 2003


Walter K. Olson
Senior Fellow
Manhattan Institute for Policy Research

F. Paul Bland, Jr.
Staff Attorney
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice 

Moderator: Judge David Sentelle 
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

Click Here to listen to audio archive.

Class action lawsuits over tobacco, breast implants, and asbestos have grabbed headlines, not only for the size of their multi-million dollar settlements, but also for their regulatory, political, and commercial implications. Lawsuits, it appears, are no longer simply about recovering individual losses due to a corporation’s negligent actions - they are viewed as tools for reshaping entire industries and supplementing what some see as the shortcomings of federal deregulation of the market.

While admitting that not all class actions are bad, reform proponents nevertheless believed that not enough had being done to prevent suits with little or no merit from being litigated. Many of these lawsuits, they argued, end up enriching a few attorneys, at the expense of absent class members and the public at large. Alternatively, opponents viewed class action reform as a measure designed to protect “big business” by restricting consumer access to our legal system. They argue that class action reform, as currently proposed by Congress, would harm consumer rights and greatly reduce environmental protection and safety.

Would class action reform make our judicial system more effective by preventing frivolous or malicious claims? Or would class action reform reduce the ability of low- income groups and consumers to effectively assert their rights against large corporate defendants?