Tort reform is a familiar term for most people, but not many understand what it is and what it means for a personal injury claim. Every Joplin personal injury attorney, no doubt, has kept a close eye on the publicity that tort reform has garnered. Here is what you need to know about tort reform and how it may affect your Joplin personal injury case.
What does tort reform mean?
The term “tort reform” is used to refer to political efforts to limit victim’s rights. Technically, it refers to the proposed changes in the civil legal system, the purpose of which was to diminish the ability of victims to bring civil lawsuits and to decrease the amount of damages victims can receive. A “tort” means civil wrongdoing as opposed to criminal wrongdoing. That means personal injury claims are considered tort claims.
How does tort reform affect my ability to file a lawsuit?
There are several ways that tort reform and the new laws that resulted from the movement will have an effect on personal injury lawsuits. In simple terms, tort reform efforts make it more difficult and more expensive to bring a lawsuit. It also imposes stricter limitations on damages and requirements that the losing party pays the costs of litigation. In other words, if you sue and you lose, you may be required to pay the person you sue for bringing the lawsuit.
Proving damages in a personal injury case
Every legal claim is different, both factually and with regard to the laws that apply. As your personal injury lawyer will tell you, one of the most important components in determining the value of a personal injury claim is the nature and seriousness of the actual injuries. The purpose of a damages award in a personal injury case is to make the victim “whole.” This basically means compensating the victim for everything was lost as a result of the accident or injury. The only way to do accomplish that is through a monetary award.
What are compensatory damages in personal injury cases?
In most personal injury cases, the injured party will seek compensation for medical expenses incurred as a result of their injuries. This is the primary component of damages in a personal injury case. Reimbursement for medical treatment typically includes compensation for treatment already received, as well as the estimated costs of any medical care that may be required in the future. Additionally, the injuries suffered can have a substantial impact on the victim’s ability to return to work, either temporarily or permanently. In that case, damages may include future income.
How does tort reform affect damages in personal injury cases?
As every Joplin personal injury attorney is aware, one goal of tort reform is to substantially limit the types and amount of damages that a plaintiff can receive if successful in filing a lawsuit for personal injury. One way this is accomplished is by limiting pain and suffering, or non-economic, damages. Pain and suffering, as it is legally defined, is the “[t]erm used to describe not only physical discomfort and distress but also mental and emotional trauma.” This particular type of damages is usually the most significant in a personal injury case.
What tort reform does is impose mandated caps or limitations on the amount of non-economic damages that can be awarded to plaintiffs in personal injury cases. States have decided individually whether to impose these caps and what the limits should be. So, your Joplin personal injury attorney will already be aware of any applicable limits on damages in Missouri.
Tort reform and so-called frivolous lawsuits
Another issue that has been raised by tort reform is the concept of “frivolous lawsuits.” While the concept of a frivolous lawsuit does exist, the frequency of actual frivolous lawsuits has been greatly inflated. A frivolous lawsuit is one where there is absolutely no evidence to support the claim and the suit is filed solely for the purpose of harassing or embarrassing the other party. As a result of tort reform, the standards for proving certain claims have been raised to the point that previously viable claims are no longer viable. What that means for plaintiffs bringing personal injury claims is that the level of proof is higher. However, a Joplin personal injury attorney can review your claims and help you determine whether they can be successfully raised in court.
If you have questions regarding tort reform or any other personal injury legal issues in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a free consultation, either online or by calling toll-free at (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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