Recasting The Tort Debate

There's something about personal injury litigation that doesn't lend itself to reason. On one side, trial lawyers describe themselves as champions of the helpless when often they prove more adept at generating fees than securing fair compensation for genuine victims. On the other side, corporate and medical advocates scream about ruinous lawsuits when megaverdicts are actually few and far between. In the middle, who's dispassionately measuring benefits and costs, preserving individual rights while promoting economic sanity, fostering safety and ethics while encouraging entrepreneurial risk-taking? Well, just about nobody.

That's why BusinessWeek (MHP ) has taken on the task of analyzing the American tort system and trying to sort out what works, what doesn't, and what could be improved. In this week's Special Report, Senior Writer Mike France, a lawyer himself, explores the history of personal injury law and the economic and political theories that underlie our system. From this starting point, he and Lorraine Woellert, Washington legal affairs correspondent, build a case for four carefully targeted reforms that should benefit businesses and consumers alike -- indeed, everyone except some of the more extreme members of the plaintiffs' bar. These proposals stand apart from the recently enacted class-action legislation, which most experts agree won't change the game fundamentally.

Our suggestions reflect BusinessWeek's long tradition of looking pragmatically at complex business and social problems and offering fresh approaches to solving them. We hope our proposals start a conversation on tort reform that's more constructive than the business-vs.-consumers debate that has raged so far. BusinessWeek looks forward to participating in the discussion -- in the pages of this magazine, on BusinessWeek TV , and on the Web. For starters, you'll find a useful guide to tort reform experiments in the states and a slide show of key events that have shaped liability law over the past century at

By Stephen J. Adler, Editor-in-Chief

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