We Need Tort Reform Now
October 15, 2002
By Christian Dewar
It is becoming increasingly clear that this nation needs
tort reform now. George W. Bush's mantra during political
campaigns has repeatedly called for a new look at how are
courts address the problem.
As any first year law student knows, a tort is a civil wrong
as opposed to a criminal one. If a person negligently undertakes
an action that results in damages to another person, the perpetrator
of that negligence is liable for civil penalties. Some behavior
is actionable both under civil and criminal law. If a person
intentionally hits someone else, they can be liable for fines
and criminal penalties.
My concept for tort reform varies somewhat from Bush's concept
of what this should entail. For republicans, "tort reform"
essentially means to severely limit penalties and liability
for corporations and CEOs if they put a defective product
on the market. In other words, if a company knowingly designs
a car with a gas tank located where it will explode into a
conflagration upon impact, Bush believes that the amount of
penalties that the company is liable for should be capped
at an amount that won't cut into their executive's stock options.
Republicans repeatedly vilify tort lawyers for the enormous
contingency fees that they earn from suing the manufacturers
of such products as SUVs with the Firestone Self-Destructing
Tire Feature, comparing these personal injury attorneys to
sharks. But sharks and even lawyers do have important roles
in the environment. Sharks cull injured and dead animals from
the sea. Personal injury sharks keep tobacco CEOs from directly
marketing Marlboros to your children on the playground.
My concept of 'tort reform' is based on the Old Testament,
so I firmly believe that it should get the endorsement of
John Ashcroft, who is widely known for his evangelical, fundamentalist
beliefs. Our attorney general who anointed himself with Crisco
upon taking office to recreate the rituals of Solomon and
David, and who has information directly from the source that
calico cats are the emissaries of Satin, undoubtedly looks
to the Old Testament as the final arbiter on such matters.
(Any cat owner who has had their pet use their Lazy-Boy as
a scratching post, knows that these animals are clearly possessed.
I could swear that mine once turned her head 360 degrees while
The basis of law reflected in the Old Testament is the maxim:
"Any Eye for an Eye". American jurisprudence as it relates
to civil law, is based on the idea that "Your right to swing
your fist ends where my nose begins." I believe that these
two concepts can be easily reconciled. In our society, there
seem to be a lot of bloody noses and so I propose that "We
go Old Testament on these perpetrators's Asses", to borrow
a conceit from "Pulp Fiction".
For instance, if a certain politician wants to raise the
level of arsenic in the nation's water supply...well, no more
Perrier water for them! All of their drinking water will be
from sources that contain the maximum allotted amount of the
If a politician believes that petroleum companies should
be allowed to voluntarily monitor their emissions and limit
their pollution as they see fit, then that politician and
the executives of those oil companies should be required to
relocate directly down wind from those plants.
During George W. Bush's tenure as governor of Texas, Houston
over took Los Angeles's coveted position as the most polluted
city in the United States. Under my theory of tort reform,
immediately after their release from jail for insider trading,
Kenny Boy and Dubya should be required to live in a trailer
park next to one of Houston's refineries. See how this works?
I believe that it's genius is in the simplicity.
If GE dumps a million pounds of carcinogenic PCBs into the
Hudson and Jack Welsh doesn't think that his company should
be responsible for cleaning it up, well, he doesn't get any
boutique water either.
If a chemical plant leaches a pesticide such as Kepone into
the Chesapeake Bay, contaminating the shell fish population
and ruining the livelihood of the areas's fishermen, then
the executives of that company and everyone else responsible
for the leaks should be required to consume the products of
their carelessness. Oysters on the Half Shell, anyone? Clam
Chowder? Soft shell crabs? Under my vision of tort reform,
this would be their daily staple.
The same concept can be applied to many other areas of jurisprudence.
For instance, if a company develops an experimental vaccine
for anthrax poisoning intended for nation's military and it
is suspected as a cause of the Gulf War Syndrome that has
rendered tens of thousands of our nation's soldiers ill and
killed hundreds, the executives from that company should be
required to regularly inject the drug at the highest recommended
If a chemical company develops an anti-malaria drug which
is thought to induce schizophrenia, paranoia and hostile,
aggressive behavior such as that of the returning military
personnel from Afghanistan who are implicated in the killing
of their wives at Fort Bragg, then those officials in charge
of marketing it to the military should be compelled to be
the subjects for the drug trials.
In the realm of environmental law, policies which are advocated
by certain administration officials should reflect their life
styles. For instance, when Gale Norton was attorney general
of Colorado, she endorsed voluntary compliance by corporations
with standards governing the emissions of toxic waste. One
such company dumped poisonous matter into a Colorado river
which killed all living creatures for a seventeen miles. Under
my proposed tort reform...well, no Evian water for Norton.
And no milk baths either. I hope she likes Colorado trout.
Under my proposed legal reform, the defendant literally puts
their mouth where their money is.
Does a politician, CEO or flack hired to promote strip mining
or logging advance the idea that we should be able to level
mountains and dump the tailings into streams and valleys,
or that we should be able to log rare, old-growth forests
and leave entire mountains completely denuded? Well, no trophy
home in Boca Raton for them! The people that favor such environmental
obscenities should be required to live in a home with a panoramic
view of the carnage.
If a weapons manufacturer comes up with a brilliant idea
to rid the United States of radioactive waste by turning it
into depleted uranium weapons and then bombing Iraq back into
pre-historic Mesopotamia with them, then these geniuses should
be required to live down wind of the testing grounds where
these weapons are developed. Humanitarian groups believe that
depleted uranium weapons are the cause of a much greater rate
of cancer among civilians in Iraq and Bosnia. American troops
that could be sent to Iraq for Bush Junior's new crusade will
be also exposed to this highly toxic waste. So, I propose
that everyone in the company that manufacturers these weapons
be routinely exposed to the pulverized shrapnel in order to
determine if in fact, they cause cancer and death.
If the CEOs of major cigarette companies appear before a
congressional committee and deny any knowledge that their
product has any adverse health consequences, then they should
be assigned a probation officer who will ensure that the air
in their offices, homes and places of recreation mirrors that
of what bartenders and waitresses are subjected to in the
honkey-tonks and watering holes which these CEOs target with
If the executives market a Pinto car that explodes into a
ball of fire upon impact, or they sell an SUV with the featured
Firestone tires that are guaranteed to shred after a few hours
of normal use, then those officials should be 'volunteered'
to serve as test crash dummies.
A manufacturer that develops a product like Agent Orange
which continues to cause illness, birth defects and death
in both Vietnamese peasants and our veterans, should be required
to have their house sprayed with the toxin. An industrial
strength version of 'Round Up' is being dispersed from air
craft over Columbia. The peasants complain that it is killing
their crops and making them sick. If these CEOs are certain
that it is benign, let them prove it.
If George W. Bush believes that Yucca Mountain is a safe
repository for nuclear waste and decides to bury it there
in spite of assurances to the residents of Nevada that he
wouldn't, under my proposed amendments to our legal system,
he would be required to move his ranch from Crawford to a
site bordering the dump.
Does George W. Bush wish to continue bombing practice on
the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico? As anyone who has visited
the area knows, this part of the world is beautiful, with
world-class sailing and scuba diving. What does Crawford have
that is comparable? Mesquite? Rattle snakes? Jack rabbits?
I say that we should conduct military exercises there. Or
perhaps Kennebunkport. My revision of the law would completely
negate the NIMBY, or 'Not In My Backyard' syndrome. If you
don't want the nuisance in your backyard, you simply don't
What about Bush's 'Star Wars' boondoggle for the Military-Industrial-Complex?
Some scientists have pointed out inconvenient facts about
this program, such as that it doesn't work in the real world.
It is alleged that the tests have been fudged and that these
weapons are only able to intercept in-coming missiles when
they are equipped with homing devices. Scientists point out
that these interceptors are easily fooled by decoys. Rumsfeld
now wants to make the test results secret. I propose that
the proponents of this plan arrange for a test at, again,
Rumsfeld, Frank Gaffney, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick
and Lynne Cheney and the rest of the gang who promote this
inane idea could gather there for a weekend while we lob missiles
at the ranch. The whole Bush family could be there. Just tell
Jenna and Barbara that it is a kegger and they will show up.
Promise Noelle some Xanax. We reserve the right to deploy
a few decoys and the missile should include a real warhead
just to make the test as realistic as possible. We also reserve
the right to ensure that no homing devices are installed.
If a mushroom cloud doesn't appear over Bush's beloved ranch,
then we can continue discussions as to whether the Strategic
Missile Defense system should be deployed at the multi-billion
dollar price tag which this will entail.
This concept of tort reform is readily adaptable to corporate
law. If a CEO of a company like Global Crossing, Enron, WorldCom,
Halliburton or Harken hides debt, uses off-shore banks to
avoid taxes, forgives huge loans to executives and becomes
involved in insider trading, then those executives should
be required to live at the economical level of the most impoverished
share holder or employee who lost their 401 ks, pensions,
IRAs and the rest of their life savings. (This, of course,
after having spent a sentence in jail, the duration of which
will be based on a pro-rated, proportionate amount of time
linked to that which the typical inner-city kid might get
for boosting a car stereo; possibly a thousand years with
If you believe that the United States needs tort reform,
please notify your elected officials. I sincerely believe
that my new, revised version of American jurisprudence will
significantly reduce the extent to which the people in our
society who swing their fists will impact on our noses.