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Oregon Tort Reform Initiatives Fail To Make Ballot


Two proposed ballot initiatives aimed at making personal injury attorneys unavailable in Oregon did not receive the signatures required to qualify for the ballot, according to a report. Initiative 51, which would have limited attorneys’ contingency fees to 25 percent of the first $25,000 recovered in civil lawsuits and 10 percent of any amount greater than $25,000. The second initiative (No. 53) would have called for attorneys to be punished for filing frivolous lawsuits or court motions.

The proposals were sponsored by Russ Walker of Keizer, Ore., vice chairman of the Oregon Republican Party. This type of tort deform initiative is mostly sponsored by insurance companies, giant corporations and the Chamber of Commerce to block the common man’s access to lawyers. Take away a persons access to lawyers and you take away their rights and their ability to hold wrongdoers accountable for the harm they cause.

Interestingly enough, Initiative 51 does not cap how much defense attorneys can charge. The whole idea is for the best attorneys to work for the insurance companies and big business, while the common man gets the attorneys who can’t find any other work. If such a law limiting contingent fees had passed we certainly would not do any work in Oregon and neither would any of the other truly gifted attorneys around the country. The best personal injury lawyers in Oregon would either move to another state or do other types of work, which is exactly what Walker and his backers were hoping to have happen. Where does that leave the people of Oregon?

Notice also that Initiative 53 would have mandated punishment for the filing of frivolous lawsuits and motions. No attorney in his right mind files frivolous lawsuits. How do you make any money with bad lawsuits? What is frivolous is the defenses that insurance companies put up in defense of lawsuits. Initiative No. 53 did not address frivolous defenses.

As for frivolous motions, Oregon defense attorneys would have been voting against this measure. Filing frivolous motions so they can increase their billing hours, delay justice by making more unnecessary work for plaintiff’s attorneys and delay the day their insurance company and big business clients are going to have to pay, is a standard part of their practice. They wouldn’t want their “motion business” taken away.

Think about it, how often does an insurance company admit liability in a lawsuit? Every personal injury lawsuit I have ever seen, even in the most clear cut liability lawsuits, the insurance company always denies each and every allegation. That means they even deny that a boating accident, auto accident or any other type of accident, happened. Now, isn’t that a frivolous defense? Initiative No. 53 doesn’t punish frivolous defenses. Frivolous defenses are a much bigger problem than frivolous lawsuits.

Contingent fees are charged by personal injury attorneys only if the case has a successful outcome. Under a contingent fee system, the amount of fees a plaintiff pays is percentage of the amount recovered. No money recovered, no fee. This type of fee arrangement allows injured people or families who have lost a loved one, to obtain the services of a truly talented personal injury lawyers without paying thousands of dollars up front and more periodically throughout the case. By mandating a lower fee structure, necessarily, people will not be able to hire the best attorneys, unless they can pay up front.

States already have limits on what personal injury attorneys may receive as fees. These Initiatives aimed to further reduce that compensation with the goal of deterring lawyers from representing the injured and instead work for companies and individuals that are wealthy enough to pay thousands of dollars up front and $300 to $900 an hour thereafter.

The tort system would work much better if insurance companies do their job by settling reasonable claims promptly instead of fighting legitimate claims and trying to undercut their true value. If insurance companies handled claims in a good faith manner, personal injury attorneys would not get involved and those severely injured in dog a attack, an auto accident or another type of accident would get the compensation they rightfully deserve.

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