You know why? Because reform is supposed to make something better, not worse. I am stealing the phrase “tort reform” back from those who would destroy injury victims’ rights for the sake of simple economic expediency. So here are John Bratt’s proposals for Maryland tort reform.
First, do away with the antiquated “contributory negligence” standard. In Maryland, if you are even a teensy, eensy bit negligent, you can never make a recovery in tort. “But wait”, exclaims a chorus of the uninformed, “that’s not fair- if you are negligent it is your own fault.” Oh really? What about a pedestrian who looks left, but not right and then a drunk driver runs him down? His fault, huh? Good thing Donte Stallworth ran that guy over in Florida, not Maryland. In our state, there is a good chance that guy loses his case against the drunk driver. Maryland should abandon this unfair standard and move to a contributory negligence system such as those in use in 44 other states.
Second, our legislature should appeal the “actual malice” standard to recover punitive damages. What this means is that in order to recover punitive damages, you must prove that whatever the defendant did was not only intentional but done out of specific ill will toward the injured person. There is a great illustration in the news right now. A 20-year-old college student, a pedestrian, was run down and killed by a repeat drunk driver, who then left the scene. It turns out, he was captured on various cameras driving erratically throughout the city before the fatal collision. That poor young woman’s family will not be able to recover punitive damages. Is that fair? This is a case where allowing punitive damages is not only morally right but would provide a benefit to society by showing that this conduct will not be tolerated n the community.