Panel of Judges Tackles Tort Reform at AAI Meeting

April 29, 2003

Noting that events in today’s litigation world are “happening very rapidly,” Jess Dickinson, justice-elect of the Mississippi Supreme Court, was one of a number of panelists who addressed the current state of tort reform during the 81st annual meeting of the Alliance of American Insurers (AAI) in the San Diego area Monday.

Dickinson was one of four speakers who addressed the subject, moderated by Brooklyn Law School Professor Anthony Sebok.

“There is a new direction in litigation,” Dickinson told the audience. “In Mississippi, there are three or four counties that account for about 75 percent of the problem.” Dickinson claimed that those counties have become a haven for lawyers filing class action suits in areas where they are more likely to find judges and juries that will likely side with them.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Stephen Markham added that AAI members “Must pay greater attention to the judicial branch selection in your states. Judges need to say what the law is, not what it ought to be.”

Sebok pointed out that litigation’s impact on the American economy has led to a recent outcry for tort reform, noting class actions and unpredictable verdicts in recent years have had a drag on business.

Federal Judge Paul Niemeyer from the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Maryland, added that the most dramatic shift in power in the litigation world was when class action was created in 1966. “Class action now is a reform technique. How do you put your arms around a risk that is undeterminable? The Supreme Court has gradually, in some major opinions, relaxed the standard, so that almost anybody can sue.”

California-based Senior U.S. District Court Judge William Schwarzer feels that if the system is going to be revamped, “We need to go about it with great care. It’s not a system that is broken. There is no question that automobiles are much safer today than they were 30 or 40 years ago. Hospitals are safer places than they were 30 or 40 years ago. That’s not to say there are not problems, there are problems.” Schwarzer categorized asbestos litigation as a problem that needs definite attention.

During a brief Q&A session with audience members, the panel looked at the recent Campbell decision, how the U.S. tort system compares to the rest of the world, and the importance in the rise of non-economic damages.

The meeting continues Tuesday.

Editor’s Note: The AAI meeting also looked at “The Evolution of State Regulation” during its session on Monday. Look for a recap of this discussion Wednesday at and

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