It's clear that The Post is excited about the prospects of changing the liability laws ("Liability Reforms Are Coming," editorial, April 1), but it's not clear that an uncritical acceptance of all of the proposals made by the Torts Policy Working Group will solve the problems now faced by the insurance industry.
A limitation on the portion of an award that can be taken for legal fees is a reasonable area for legislation, justified by the failure of the legal community to establish its own enforceable guidelines. However, a limit on the size of liability awards is not so readily justified.
Among the possible effects of this measure would be a calculable reduction in the profits a manufacturer may risk when deciding whether a new product should be brought to market. During a political period when safety standards are relaxed and our federal regulatory agencies do not rigorously investigate the safety of new products (some observers would say this is now the case), the courts become the arena for consumers to seek compensation for the damages done by unsafe products. If damages are great enough, they pressure a manufacturer to withdraw products that are causing harm. Since the profits derived from the mass-marketing of consumer goods are quite substantial, the litigation awards must also be proportionally large before they can offset the economic gains to be derived from unsafe products.
Closer scrutiny is also needed to define what is meant by the panel's recommendation that "credible scientific and medical opinions and evidence" be relied on rather than "fringe" medical and scientific opinions. First of all, this recommendation would appear to be so vague as to be useless with regard to the practical problems of deciding who is a qualified expert to provide testimony in court. The recommendation also suggests instituting a bias in favor of witnesses employed by well-funded and influential litigants.
For example, as regular benefactors of scientific research, large corporations can often muster prestigious authorities to speak on their behalf in court. Individual plaintiffs are unlikely to have any status in the medical or research community, except what they may claim in the hope of charitable concern for a possible victim. Thus, in court, the individual litigant may often need to call upon the testimony of researchers who aren't sharing in the wealth and prestige generated by corporate largess. Will the testimony of such experts be deemed "fringe" opinion because of the panel's recommendations?
Matters such as these deserve detailed discussion and evaluation, far beyond The Post's simple editorial assertions that the panel's recommendations do promise to stifle excessive liability claims. In the worst case, ill-founded litigation reforms will leave us with the costs and frustrations of "crackpot" claims and put consumers at even greater jeapody of victimization from profitable but unsafe products.