Friday, September 9, 2011

Why Partisan Politics is bad

I am going to use a non-controversial issue as an example.  Well, at least it hasn't been controversial for a while.  The issue is "Tort Reform", which hasn't got a lot of press lately.

Basically Tort Reform refers t to the laws about suing a company for damages.  Whether those damages be physical, pain & suffering, or financial.  

Typically the conservatives argument against maintaining the current form are three fold:

  1. It is expensive (per wikipedia, Britain spends 85 pence in legal actions for every Pound of damages obtained).   Those legal expenses also gets pushed into healthcare by insurances rates having to rise to cover them.
  2. Some of the cases are frivolous/fraudulent
  3. It discourages no-fault insurance - so those that are injured by a true accident get no payment, while those that are injured by negligence get paid large amounts.
  4. It discourages innovative ideas out of fear of tort cases (I.E.  No weather control attempts by US companies because they are afraid that they will be sued for indirectly causing a hurricane. - Instead China leads the field Source )
Liberals counter that:

  1. It is expensive because corporations/insurance companies act in bad faith, 
  2. Few cases are frivolous and fraudulent cases should be prosecuted, 
  3. No fault insurance prevents punishment, encouraging firms to re-offend 
  4. We need a mechanism to discourage dangerous ideas - and that truly innovative ideas should be made safe before we act on them.

Liberals want more punitive damages and to make it easier to  sue, conservatives want less and to make it harder to sue.

But what ends up happening is that both sides use this issue as a talking point.  It becomes a weapon to get  lobbying money from the public.  The GOP goes after insurance company money while the DNC goes after tort lawyers money.    This affects their proposed solutions.   Sometimes the various lobby's directly write the proposed laws.   So instead of the GOP vs the DNC bill, you get the Insurance vs. Lawyers Bill.

Lets look at a logical way to deal with it, for all of those four issues.

  1. Expensive = required mediation.  Laywers can't talk to each other without a mediator present.  They get a quick and cheap hearing by one - cost to be split equally.
  2. The mediator can either a) Approve a settlement. b) Refer it to trial.  c) Declare that a case is either frivolous or being unfairly denied - requiring the offending party to pay double the mediator fee and if they insist on a trial, have penalty fees applies if they lose the trial. or d) Order a criminal Investigation if they believe either side is committing fraud. 
  3. Requiring all people to have health insurances takes care of most of this (Obamacare to the rescue) plus the mediator can give out penalties.
  4. Again, the threat of a law suit will still be there.
Finally, one more idea to solve the problem.  The heart of the Conservative fear is greedy trial lawyers suing people that did nothing wrong (or demanding high reimbursement for low damages).   So reduce their payout.   Let the lawyers get 15% of any tort case plus expenses (including an hourly charge for their time in front of a judge - as long as the judge doesn't rule them excessive), while allowing the plaintiff to get quadruple  damages plus expenses.  This significantly reduces the incentive for greedy lawyers, without affecting the incentive to sue.   Greedy lawyers will only go after strong cases, while strong cases can still sue for massive damages.   We still get to discourage dangerous activities and encourage reasonable safety..

But that won't happen.  Because the insurance companies are not really afraid of frivolous lawsuits, they are afraid of ANY lawsuits.  Similarly, the tort lawyers are not solely looking out for their clients, they are also concerned with their own livelyhood.

So partisan politics stops us from looking at an actual fair way to solve the problem, instead focuses us on one side winning and the other side losing, even if a compromise would be in the best interest of all.

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