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What’s All This Talk of Tort Reform, Anyway?

On Behalf of | Sep 2, 2015 | Firm News

Across the United States, legislation and discussions are cropping up regarding tort reform. This blog will examine what tort reform is, as well as Montana’s position on this controversial issue.

A tort is simply a wrongful act for which someone can recover damages under the law. Tort lawsuits are sometimes known as personal injury lawsuits.

Tort reform is aimed at reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits and the amount of damages recoverable in lawsuits. These goals are usually accomplished by legislative bodies making changes to laws that limit the ability to file lawsuits or limit the amount of money that may be recovered in certain types of lawsuits. Following are a few examples of limiting measures:

  • Instituting pre-suit notice requirements;
  • Requiring claims to be reviewed, before suit is filed, by an expert panel;
  • Writing new, restrictive laws to replace earlier court-made remedies;
  • Placing caps on the amount of damages that may be recovered; and
  • Broadening the power of releases for certain types of activities.

Advocates of tort reform argue that it improves the climate for businesses, that it keeps insurance costs down, and that it encourages innovation. Those opposed to tort reform argue that it prevents full recovery for those who have been injured.

Tort reform measures that are already in place in Montana include mandatory prefiling procedures, expert review panels, laws broadening releases, and laws limiting damages. In the late 1970s, Montana’s Legislature passed a law to require medical malpractice claims to be reviewed, before a lawsuit could be filed, by a medical legal panel. Chiropractors are governed by a similar prefiling procedure, which was enacted in 1989.

The Montana Legislature also passed laws in the late 1980s to replace judicial remedies with more restrictive legislative ones. For example, in 1987, the Legislature replaced the traditional, at-will employment scheme that most states still use today with a statutory recovery scheme that governs any time an employee is discharged from employment. This law limits the amount of damages and provides for arbitration of employment claims filed by employees.

Montana law also includes a cap on the amount of punitive damages, currently $10 million or three percent of a wrongdoer’s net worth, whichever is less. Additionally, Montana has enacted laws to protect certain businesses from liability, such as ski resorts, equine activity providers, and hunter education professionals. To learn more about recreational use limitation laws, see our separate blog here.

Tort reform does not mean you cannot be compensated for personal injuries. It just changes the legal landscape of personal injury lawsuits. Wrongdoers are still held accountable for injuries caused by their behavior. If you have been injured in Montana, call us. We have extensive experience in Montana personal injury litigation and have adapted to the new ways of doing things. For more information, please call our office at 406-389-4215 or visit our website.