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Hello, and welcome to the seventh year of Discovery Update.
This year, one of the hottest news topics will be what changes, if any, should be made in the nation’s tort system. The last few months have seen the release of the Manhattan Institute’s Trial Lawyers, Inc. and Tillinghast-Towers Perrin’s U.S. Tort Costs: 2003 Update, both of which placed the tort system’s cost at over $200 billion annually. The Tillinghast figure of $233 billion for 2002 is $27.4 billion more than the previous year, though it still represents a smaller portion of the GDP than in 1990.
Others have been sharply critical of the methodology used in these reports. But even if those figures are fully accurate, what they don’t show is what people are getting for that money. For example, those seeking to limit litigation often say that it is a drag on the United States economy and hurts our international competitiveness. It used to be common in such discussions to point to Japan’s legal system, with its low level of litigation, as a model of how ours should be. Yet, over the last dozen years, the U.S. economy has thrived while Japan’s has struggled. So, is litigation dragging down businesses, or does it act as an effective watchdog? Both sides can present piles of evidence to back up their positions.
As court reporters, we don’t favor one side or the other in a dispute. In fact, it is quite common for us to report depositions for both parties in a case. As officers of the court we are concerned, however, with maintaining a healthy justice system that treats all sides fairly and impartially. Whenever we go tinkering with that system we are heading into uncharted waters. It is easy to point out numerous cases in which justice wasn’t served. Nevertheless, no one can point to another legal system which provides better justice than our own.
So, if we do make changes to the system, they must be made cautiously. If a judge is incompetent or biased, replace him. If jurors need to be better informed, educate them. But be careful of doing anything which throws off that critical balance between the parties and so alters the entire character of our justice system.