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Tort reform

The other day I got an email from Ryan Zempel, managing editor of InstituteforLegalReform.com.  Apparently, Ryan and I are good buds, because he addressed me by my first name.  He then went on to say

I wanted to give you a heads up that ILR has released its 2007 ranking of the lawsuit climates in each state.  Delaware tops the list (as usual) while West Virginia comes in at the bottom.  Ohio dropped five places this year, moving from 19th to 24th.

That Ohio is dropping in a ranking -- whether it be aid to education, manufacturing jobs, literacy, or whatever -- is hardly surprising.  In fact, it seems the only categories in which our rankings are going up is in poverty, and the number of people who wouldn't stay in this state at gunpoint.  "Lawsuit climate," though, is a little more opaque of a term, until you check out the website and find that the Institute for Legal Reform views lawsuit climate through the lens of the Chamber of Commerce. 

One might guess that the "in-house general counsel" and "other senior corporate litigators" who come up with these rankings have a particular point of view.  The explanation for Ohio's fall to the middle of the pack is given here, with the short version being that the gains in imposing limits on tort claims over the past six years are in danger of being eroded, if not eliminated entirely.  At least according to the Institute. 

Now, I'm certainly not averse to pointing out the excesses of the tort system, as I did back here.  On the other hand, the "common sense reforms" the Institute lauds appear to be rather one-sided.  The "substantive progress made by the Ohio Legislature to fix the state's lawsuit system over the last several years," as the Institute phrases it, includes a new definition of employer intentional tort which actually requires that the employer have specifically intended to injure the employee.  As the Supreme Court noted the last two times it struck down an identically-worded statute, this could create a scenario in which an employer would be guilty of a crime but exempt from civil liability.

Interestingly, the Institute's email coincided with the posting on the Supreme Court website of the Ohio Court Summary for 2006, a breakdown of cases being handled in Ohio's courts.  One of the reports included in the summary is a tabulation of case filings, by type -- professional tort, product liability, and so forth.  Out of curiosity, I compared the new case filings in various categories in the 2006 summary with the same info in the 1999 summary, the oldest one available on the court's site.  That comparison doesn't give a whole lot of support to the idea that Ohio is suffering from a litigation explosion, at least insofar as torts go.  New filings in professional torts are down 44% from 1999; product liability filings have decreased by 37%, and "other torts" have declined by 18%.  By comparison, new criminal cases, as you might expect, are a growth stock, climbing by 38% in the past seven years.

And if you want to get a good idea of the economic havoc that the last seven years have wreaked in this state, you can take note that foreclosures have increased by a whopping 153%.

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