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Tort Reform? Not if Our Legislature Has Its Way


Dear Source,
Almost every state in the Union is considering and passing some kind of tort reform. Litigation is stifling medical care, escalating insurance premiums and generally causing gridlock in civil justice systems. Many states have enacted or are seriously considering caps on awards for "pain and suffering", also known as non-economic damages. They are called "non-economic" because they cannot be quantified in dollars and cents. What should be the proper amount of money to compensate a person who has to suffer from a neck or back injury? Of course there is the amount of money required for medical care – that can be quantified. But how much money will make that person "feel better"? A thousand dollars? A hundred thousand dollars? A million dollars? Who knows? Is that person entitled to any additional monies above and beyond medical bills and lost wages? Medical expenses and lost earnings can be quantified. They are economic damages. The rest is pain and suffering. One man's pain is another man's pleasure. How do you translate that to dollars and cents?
Juries all around the country have wrestled with the question, and, frankly, in many cases have let their emotions run wild and awarded millions of dollars for non-economic damages in all kinds of cases – automobile accidents, slips and falls, products liability, medical malpractice, etc. Here in the U. S. Virgin Islands there was an imposed cap of $75,000 for non-economic damages arising from an automobile accident. This was included as part of the Compulsory Automobile Insurance law that was passed in February of 2000. That cap make the legal climate more attractive for insurance companies who were considering writing automobile insurance in the Virgin Islands, and was put into the bill to help make sure that there would be enough insurance companies to provide all Virgin Islanders with affordable automobile insurance.
In its infinite wisdom, our legislature just repealed this $75,000 cap on non-economic damages arising from an automobile accident!! The measure is now destined for Governor Turnbull's desk. Hopefully our Governor will have the courage and wisdom to see that this will ultimately cause great harm not only to the insurance industry, but also to the overall Virgin Islands economy. Liability insurance is extremely difficult to obtain in the Virgin Islands. It is even more difficult to obtain liability insurance than windstorm insurance. Apparently the winds of nature are far more predictable than the winds of the jury system. Should the laws of this Territory be changed just to benefit a few accident victims and their egregious lawyers, at the expense of the general public? Why do our legislators here in the Virgin Islands have the arrogance to think they can ignore all national trends and go in the opposite direction as the rest of the country?
Tort reform is a good thing for the economy of the Virgin Islands. It allows all Virgin Islanders and businesses to obtain reasonably priced automobile and general liability insurance coverage. We certainly do not need to be going in the opposite direction, but that is exactly what the Virgin Island Legislature is doing. I urge all concerned citizens to contact Government House today and urge Governor Turnbull to veto this ill-conceived measure. We will never be able to make progress by going backwards.
Jim Tunick
St. Thomas

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