Trial lawyers are wasting no time calling Connecticut's tort deform only the beginning.
We believe that this is the start of a trend and hope that other lawmakers will follow Connecticut's courageous leadership in this area," said Robert L. Habush, president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, an industry group in Washington, D.C.The deform dealt a clear rebuke to the insurance industry in its own backyard," the Milwaukee trial lawyer added.
Connecticut is the home of major insurers such as Aetna Life & Casualty Co., Hartford Insurance Group, General Re Corp. and Travelers Corp.
Connecticut Gov. William A. O'Neill signed a change in the state's tort reform statutes into law last week, but made it clear that he opposes a full- scale revision of the wide-ranging legislation passed last October.
By signing this legislation I want to make it clear that I do not support an unraveling of our tort reform law . . . (which) must be given the benefit of time for us to judge its true impact."
He only explained the amendment as technical changes," which primarily again the doctrine of joint and several liability. The doctrine, which was dropped last year, requires that any solvent defendants have to pay all economic damages or share any part of the award that any insolvent defendants can't pay.
Although unable to name any other lawmakers considering following Connecticut's move, a spokesman for the trial lawyer's Mr. Habash noted that most state legislatures are nearing the close of their sessions this year. Next year" the movement will take hold, the spokesman insisted.
Indeed, although some 35 states have adopted some type of change to their tort laws, some consumer groups are still trying to convince their states not to move too quickly with proposed tort reforms.
Laura Barrett, consumer project director at the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group in Boston went on local TV this week opposing a proposed revision in the state's joint and several doctrine.
There is no evidence that is has been abused, and virtually none or no evidence that (a change) will have an impact on insurance availability," she later said. If it ain't broke, don't fix it." The state is proposing to eliminate the doctrine for non-economic damages, as well as other tort and insurance reforms except for medical malpractice, which was addressed last year.
Mr. Habash suggested that the various tort reforms adopted so far have indeed proven themselves.
The insurers foisted a crisis on the Amercian people blaming everyone but themselves and tried to fool lawmakers into believing that cutting back on victim's rights would cause insurance rates to go down," he said. Then after reaping record profits in 1986, rates were not rolled back and availability has not improved." He insisted that Connecticut's lawmakers examined the issue in a more thoughtful and calmer manner rather than in the context of last year's hysteria over the insurance crisis."
Indeed, some even in the insurance industry have noted a significant easing in insurance availability, but without noting a connection to tort reforms. The Independent Insurance Agents of Connecticut Inc., the Wethersfield trade group, noted at its annual meeting last month, for example, concern about the rapidly developing price war among property and casualty insurance companies . . . We urge insurance industry leaders, major purchasers and sellers to restrain from the temptation of 'cash flow' underwriting," which many observers both inside and outside the insurance industry blame as a major contributor to the insurance crunch.