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A new(-ish) kid on the block in Colorado’s perennial feud over tort reform

Author: Dan Njegomir - June 9, 2017 - Updated: June 9, 2017

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iStock image / Mik_photo

The Colorado Civil Justice League long has served as the state’s standard bearer for tort reform. Working with prominent business groups, the league has taken the lead in advocating policies that rein in what it sees as runaway litigation and unwarranted damages awards that can cripple the economy.

Up against those efforts? The proverbial plaintiffs’ bar — the state’s personal-injury lawyers, who contend “tort reform” is a euphemism for curtailing basic civil rights — but not much in the way of organized opposition.

Or so we’d thought until we stumbled across Caps HarmColorado on Twitter:

The campaign is part of a nationwide project by the New York Law School’s Center for Justice & Democracy and aims to push back at industry-backed tort reform groups. Colorado’s iteration of the effort also has a Facebook page as well as a rudimentary website, which argues the case for a very different kind of reform in Colorado — one that would make it easier to sue for negligence in the Centennial State:

If you or a family member are badly hurt because a big company acted recklessly, you should be able to take that company to court and be fully compensated.  But in Colorado, you can’t.  That’s because Colorado lawmakers have enacted some of the harshest laws in the nation limiting the rights of everyday Coloradans.  And if you or your child is a patient injured in an unsafe hospital, the restrictions on your rights are even more severe.

In addition, when it comes to the personal responsibility of corporations and health care providers that cause injury or death, Colorado’s laws relieve these wrongdoers of accountability for their misconduct.

The website elaborates on how caps, or statutory limits, that have been placed on various kinds of jury awards — for non-economic damages, for punitive damages, for medical-malpractice cases and the like — shortchange victims of negligence.

True confessions: While both the group’s Twitter account and its Facebook page show a 2012 startup, we’d never heard of them until the other day. Don’t we feel silly! Perhaps one reason for Caps Harm Colorado’s low-profile is the evident lack of a local presence; no in-state contacts are apparent on any of the group’s media, which loop visitors and followers back to the Center for Justice & Democracy.

So, is it a worthy, if not-so-new adversary for the Colorado Civil Justice League? The league’s longtime executive director, former Colorado Senate Majority and Minority Leader Mark Hillman of Burlington, didn’t hold back when asked for his reaction via email:

” ‘Caps Harm’ is a project driven by a lawsuit-loving faction at the New York Law School.  It attempts to discredit lawsuit limits across the country, claiming to want to be sure people get a ‘fair shake’ in court.  This is a one-sided approach that ignores that most people never file a lawsuit, yet they still need good jobs and affordable goods and services.  Lawsuit limits ensure that legitimate victims can be properly compensated without turning our courts into a litigation lottery in which a handful of trial lawyers and plaintiffs strike it rich at the expense of everyone else.  Frivolous lawsuits make everything we buy more expensive and reduce our choices as consumers.”

That said, we look forward to further input from both sides.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.