Sunday, January 08, 2006

New Perspectives

Hopefully, what will be my last semester of my law school career starts tomorrow. My first reaction to this realization is that I am glad to finally be ending seven years of formal education post high school. My next thought turns to the way law school has changed my perspective on the world. Some things that seemed reasonable three years ago seem idiotic now. Tort reform is one example. The interplay of economics and societal structure is another. The former comes more from my experience learning the law, digging in to the language of statutory texts, and reading past the rhetoric to get at impetus for such policy. The latter comes more from my reflection on the way business and the legal system works, and re-thinking some of what I studied in undergrad when working with social and political philosophy. In some ways, they seem to work together. Tort reform is a good example. Essentially, lawmakers want to curb the astronomical judgments handed out by juries in personal injury lawsuits. This includes situations like medical malpractice. The impetus for such reform comes from the staggering increase in insurance premiums paid by doctors that has forced many from the profession.

Looking past these superficial motivations, the real story comes from what is going on in the insurance business. Much of this legislation comes not from the doctors, though they have a part, rather from the insurance industry attempting to limit their liability to pay on claims. The impact of this legislation on the market will probably be small. Even if there are limitations on damages awarded in these cases, insurance premiums won't decrease. This strengthens one part of the economy while weakening another. More importantly, this change reverberating through the legal system by diminishing the rights of prospective plaintiffs in being the architects of their own suits, and pursuing the equitable disposition of legal disputes. Areas of the law are interconnected, and such a major change in one area will no doubt cause similar changes in other areas.

It all comes back to how changes in the law change the economy surrounding the area the laws control. The question becomes who the law should aim to serve, big business or the people?

1 comment:

Nerdgirl said...

We've discussed this very topic in class as well. Its hard for people to see past their own noses in this debate. The doctors are all for it, thinking that it will assist them, regulating what a person can recover. They have a notion of what litigation is, and what a malpractice suit would be like, and how much money they would be out if they were to lose. Reality is much more stark, as you said, and we have to ask, who do we want to serve? Personally, its a choice for the lawyer, but through legislation, that choice can be made for us.

Its an interesting debate, I think it would be an easier one if people doing the legislating and debating and voting knew more than what they have seen in television ads or newspaper editorial columns.