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Tort reform

Posted: December 16, 2010 6:41 p.m.
Updated: December 17, 2010 5:00 a.m.

As we approach a new year, one of the best presents the State of South Carolina could receive from the General Assembly would be a comprehensive tort reform measure that would make the state’s business climate friendlier and would spur economic stability. Texas has been a leader in tort reform, and Gov. Rick Perry is pushing a new proposal that would take that state a step further.

As noted in the national press, Perry is proposing a sort of British “loser pays” system in which plaintiffs who bring suits and lose would have to pick up the legal fees of winning defendants; such systems are in place in most of the countries with which the United States competes economically. Perry’s proposal wouldn’t be as strict as the one in the United Kingdom but it would make it riskier for lawyers to bring suits that the state’s laws already deem groundless. But Perry’s not out to ruin attorneys; his plan would include new ways to get compensation to genuine victims in a speedier manner.

Texas began a tort reform effort in 2003 and continued it in 2005, ending such practices as “venue shopping,” in which attorneys bring suits in places that are known to return large verdicts, regardless of whether that site has anything to do with the suit. South Carolina is notorious for this practice. It’s also made changes in class-action lawsuits, in which many attorneys advertise for clients. The result has been a significant drop in physician malpractice insurance rates, which has helped lower medical costs. The number of doctors applying to practice in Texas -- including emergency physicians and obstetricians -- has increased 60 percent. Rural counties that never before had those specialties now are getting them.

As in Texas, there should be no attempt to punish lawyers; this has nothing to do with the bad lawyer jokes which make the rounds on the Internet. Rather, it should be an attempt to rein in a litigation system that has gotten out of hand. Reforms are working in Texas, and they can work in South Carolina. We hope Gov. Haley and legislators make it a priority for next year.



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