I Have a Better Idea

From Overlawyered.com comes the story that the anti-tort reform Center for Justice & Democracy is upset about this bit of legal immunity:

Many farmers use anhydrous ammonia as fertilizer, because it provides vital nitrogen nutrients to the soil. The combustible material is produced in Louisiana, and then shipped to the Midwest on barges or through pipelines, and then stored on tanks on farms. However, ammonia is also useful for making illegal methamphetamines, and thefts are a regular problem. (KOMU-TV, "Law Officers Fight Ammonia Thefts", May 19). If a thief injures himself tampering with an ammonia tank, should he be able to sue the farmer for the injury? Three states, Kansas, Missouri, and Wyoming, say no, and provide immunity for those who store, handle, or own ammonia equipment from suit by thieves. Legislatures are considering the issue in other midwestern states.

I find this hard to argue with, unless of course you are a tort lawyer and want to sue over anything any time.  In fact, I have an even better idea.  I propose the following law:

Citizens shall be immune from any suit for injuries or damages incurred by someone committing a crime against them.


  1. Max Lybbert:

    I lived in California when a ballot initiative passed that denied "recovery of damages to a convicted felon whose injuries were proximately caused during the commission of the felony or immediate flight therefrom" ( http://www.calvoter.org/voter/elections/archive/96gen/props/213.html ). It was a very popular law, although there was strong opposition to it.

    I left California shortly after that, so I can't remember if the law ever took effect. Either way, I voted for it.

  2. Max Lybbert:

    OK, I went looking, and it looks like prop 213 was enacted:

    " Auto insurance rates in California dropped 5.7% last year and are down 11.3% since 1995, the largest four-year decline ever. ...

    "Industry analysts say insurers in California have benefited from the 1996 passage of the industry-sponsored Proposition 213, which banned drunk drivers, uninsured motorists and fleeing felons from suing for pain-and-suffering damages.

    "'Since Prop. 213, a lot of companies have been cutting rates fairly dramatically,' said Ira Zuckerman, an insurance analyst for Nutmeg Securities. ...

    "Even as rates have dropped, California insurers overall boasted record profits as lower claims costs and strong investment returns more than offset the price reductions, industry analysts said.

    "Nationally, car insurance rates rose more than 12% between 1994 and 1997"

    ( http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/insurance/nw/nw000117.php3 ).

  3. markm:

    I much prefer your version to the original. Every state in the USA desperately needs tort law reform - but laws focused on specific products just create more special interest groups, while leaving the bulk of businesses still vulnerable to predatory lawsuits. Instead, we need a series of laws focused on general principles, like:

    Criminals cannot sue for injuries incurred in committing a crime.

    You can't sue someone who might be 10% responsible (at most) for 100% of the damages

    You cannot collect damages if you were partially responsible. This includes being too stupid to realize that an inherently dangerous product is dangerous, whether or not there was a warning label. (For example, no warning labels should be necessary to inform people that knives are sharp, hot plates are hot, chainsaws will cut you even faster than they cut wood, production cars are not built to run on normal roads at 100mph or to do stunts like you see on TV.)

    Being offended or frightened does not constitute a cause of action.

    Plaintiffs who lose a suit should pay the winner's legal fees and costs. If a lawyer was working on a contingency fee basis for a client who cannot pay, or for a class of clients who didn't actually select him (typical in large class-action suits), then the lawyer must pay.

    If the plaintiff and defendant are in dispute as to scientific evidence, then the judge must select a jury that has the background to evaluate such evidence. (A rule inspired by John Edwards series of wins against obstetricians for conditions that developed later and almost certainly had nothing to do with the birth.)

    In class-action suits, the lawyers get paid in the same form as the clients. (Inspired by, for one example of many, a suit against Iomega alleging that their "Zip" disk drives lost data catastrophically; in the settlement, the customers got 10% off coupons for more Zip products - which they'd hardly want to spend more money on if Iomega actually made defective defective drives, and which products were obsolescent anyhow by this time - while the lawyers got millions in cash.)

    Plaintiffs don't get to choose the court where the case is tried.

    And one other thing, of course. The main forum for tort reform should be the state legislatures, not the federal. Federal law should be reformed too, of course, and apply automatically to any product liability suit where the defendant's main place of business is in a different state from any of the plaintiffs' homes, but there is no reason federal law should affect such things as malpractice suits. Let the states work such things out. If they choose to run their courts such that all the doctors decide to move out, that's their problem. If they choose to limit suits to the extent that truly incompetent and careless doctors move in, that's also their problem. Most states will try for somewhere in between, and eventually it will become clear how the various solutions compare in practice.

  4. Sammler:

    This law sounds great, but as written it would provide a blanket privelege for me to booby-trap my property as I see fit. Some wording is needed that prevents this.

    (And, in case you think it's not a problem: imagine that some nutcase spends years installing many traps on his property -- and then dies.)

  5. workers compensation:

    who came out the winner here? Leon
    Workers Compensation Law