Tort liability evolved as a generalization of specific types of injuries, some of which occur outside the context of economic activity. The U.S. tort system is designed to reduce the number of injuries by providing incentives to exercise the appropriate standard of care. Tort law’s diverse origins are reflected by and large in a heterogeneous body of state case law. Given that the origins of tort case law are at the state level, most efforts at reforming the system of tort law have been initiated at a state level.
State legislatures have adopted reforms favoring defendants during the past few decades. Nonetheless, critics of the current tort system argue that action is needed for several reasons. Primarily, the critics of the current system contend that transaction costs – in the form of attorneys’ fees – are too high, and that juries are permitted too much latitude in awarding plaintiffs noneconomic (punitive/pain & suffering) damages.
Critics of the current tort system also maintain that medical malpractice claims are causing health care costs to escalate, making universal health care in the United States a virtually unattainable goal. The supporters of the U.S. tort system parry with critics that high damages are seldom awarded to plaintiffs, and if they are, there is a reduction in the amount awarded. They also note that the number of tort cases has fallen substantially. Congress has modified tort law several times in the past, although these efforts at reform have generally evolved from specific causes or industries.