A Definition of Tort Reform

Definition: Tort is a legal term describing the system of compensation utilized by the courts to affix remedies, awards and damages for harm done by one party to another, be it to their person, property or other protected interest(s). Tort Law defines what constitutes a legal injury and establishes liability (it is the civil court's answer to criminal law). Tort reform, then, is the political term for the controversial issue of reducing tort litigation, awards, damages and/or compensation.

What makes the concept of tort reform controversial is that its advocates aim to cap (or place limits on) the amount of financial damages that may be awarded in personal injury or medical malpractice lawsuits. Most advocates support tort reform particularly in the area of personal injury lawsuits because of the ripple effects excessive damages and legal fees have on industries and, by extension, taxpayers. Tort reform's supporters say these ripple effects result in higher prices for services and products.

Opponents of tort reform believe limiting or reducing damages, awards or other compensation is inherently unfair and that cases should be judged individually. Severely injured plaintiffs may have a larger claim than others and by taking a blanket approach, tort reform opponents believe these claims are essentially watered down or nullified. In any case, those opposed to tort reform do not believe excessively high damages or awards adversely effect the economy.

Areas of the legal process which are targeted by tort reformists include venue shopping, contingency fees and class action lawsuits. Each of these areas, tort reform advocates contend, are rife with abuse by litigants and personal injury lawyers.

onservatives are typically supportive of reforming tort litigation, believing it is ultimately taxpayers who foot the bill for excessive damages.

Pronunciation: tort riform

Also Known As: legislation reform, liability reform, litigation reform, malpractice reform

Examples: During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican nominee and Arizona Sen. John McCain said he wanted to "pass tort reform to eliminate frivolous lawsuits."