The Center for a Just Society is a conservative outfit that seeks to "advance and defend Judeo-Christian principles of human dignity and social justice in law, policy and the public square." If you read their web site, it’s clearly a conservative organization. In light of that faith-based conservatism, it is enlightening to read what they say about the tort law system:
The tort system affirms basic human dignity and the sanctity of human life. By requiring a wrongdoer to compensate an injured person for the damage caused by a wrongful act, we affirm the worth, value, and dignity of every member of society. We demonstrate that we take human dignity seriously when, as a society, we guard against encroachments (deliberate or unintentional) by anyone on the dignity or humanity of another. No wrongdoer should be permitted to injure or kill another person with impunity. To hold otherwise undermines society’s view of the importance of human dignity and the sanctity of human life.
The tort system promotes responsibility by holding wrongdoers accountable for their actions. Personal accountability is the key to responsible human behavior. We cannot expect people to act in a responsible manner unless we hold them accountable for the consequences of their actions. If we remove accountability for wrongdoing, we encourage people to engage in irresponsible and antisocial behavior. The people who will suffer the most from such behavior will be the weakest and most vulnerable members of our society (i.e., the elderly, the handicapped, and the infirm).
The tort system promotes local control. Through the jury system, people at the local level decide what is reasonable behavior within their own communities. Ordinary citizens, applying a common sense standard of reasonable care, making decisions about acceptable and unacceptable conduct within their community—that is the essence of local government. And, as a result of those decisions, suppliers of goods and services within the marketplace will often modify their own behaviors (i.e., improve health care standards, place guards on dangerous products, protect against discharge of toxic pollutants) without the necessity of yet another costly and intrusive governmental bureaucracy.
The tort system provides for just compensation from wrongdoers and relieves the rest of society of unfair burdens. Fundamental fairness dictates that one who suffers a loss at the hands of a wrongdoer be compensated for the wrong he has suffered. If our system of justice fails to provide just compensation, the victim, or his family, will be inclined to seek personal revenge or retribution. This promotes a spirit of vigilantism and contributes further to the breakdown of social order. Additionally, if the wrongdoer is not required to bear the loss occasioned by his wrongdoing (i.e. medical bills, lost wages, etc.) those losses will have to be borne by the rest of society. When society has to pick up the tab for the losses caused by a wrongdoer, the result is the involuntary redistribution of wealth among persons who are innocent of any wrongdoing. This is just another form of “welfare” which rewards irresponsible behavior and punishes innocent parties.
It should be apparent from the foregoing that the tort system has played an important and historic role in the ordering of civil society by providing all citizens, both weak and strong, the ability to seek justice. That does not mean that the system can’t be improved. But to the extent that reforms of the system occur, we should take care to ensure that they are, in fact, improvements. Not all change equates with progress. To quote the Hippocratic oath, we must ensure that we first do no harm.
Regarding attacks on the jury system, CJS says:
Our Founding Fathers recognized that the collective judgment of ordinary people, while not perfect, is the most reliable means devised by man of resolving conflicts in America’s courtrooms. Here are some of the advantages of the jury system:
• A jury is made up of local citizens, men and women from the community who are in the best position to evaluate how the conduct at issue compares with the standards of the community in which they live.
• The composition of the jury is not known in advance of the trial, thus reducing the likelihood of undue influence being exerted on the jurors from either side.
• Jurors cannot be paid by either side. They can only consider evidence that meets a certain threshold of reliability and can only consider testimony given under oath. They cannot be approached by one party outside the presence of the other party. (Compare this with the legislative process, where access to the decision maker often depends on contributions having been made by an interested party; testimony is frequently not given under oath; no reliability threshold for evidence is required; and interested parties usually lobby the decision maker outside the presence of the other interested parties).
• Jurors commonly complete their service in just a few days or weeks and then return to their private lives. Judges are often on the bench for many years, and in some cases for life, leaving them vulnerable to ongoing efforts to influence their decisions.
• It may be easy to find one errant adjudicator who is out of touch with their community (such as a judge). It’s much harder to find 12 ordinary citizens who will come to an outrageous result, and even if they do, there are mechanisms in place to correct such a result.
In spite of all of these advantages, there is a widespread effort underway to take away our right to a trial by jury. Those pushing this wrong-headed agenda claim that it will reduce the costs of healthcare and eliminate “frivolous lawsuits.” But what they are really saying is, “We don’t trust our fellow citizens to resolve disputes. Lobbyists and politicians know better.” And truth be told, the agenda behind the agenda has less to do with lowering the cost of healthcare and eliminating frivolous suits and more to do with immunizing wrongdoers from the consequences of their behavior. The question is, will we trust our fellow citizens along with the Founders and a thousand of years of history, or will we trust professional politicians and the lobbying corps to look out for our best interests?
Scrapping the jury system will not bring about the lofty goals the tort “reformers” claim to be seeking. The only sure-fire result of such action is that the outcome of disputes will be decided in advance by politicians and the lobbyists of special interest groups that influence them. Is that justice?
I couldn’t have said it better myself. For too long the corporate elitists have succeeded in hijacking conservatism and using it to defeat accountability for harm they do to ordinary people. Enough is enough.
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.