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Why 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 projectile vomiting.)

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 chemical.

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 dose.

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 their advertising.

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 perpetrate it.

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, Crawford, Texas.

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 good behavior.)

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.

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