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Mass Tort

Tort: Any action or inaction that wrongs, damages, or injures another, and thus forms the basis of a civil lawsuit.

Intentional Tort: A tort committed by someone acting willfully with general or specific intent to harm, such as assault or battery. Typically, insurance companies will exclude coverage for intentional acts caused by their insureds. This does not mean you do not have a personal injury claim. You may still collect damages from the defendant personally.

Mass Tort: A civil wrong that injures many people, such as a defective product or a defective medical device.

Toxic Tort: A civil wrong arising from exposure to a toxic substance, such as asbestos, hazardous waste, or toxic emissions from a factory.

Tort-Feasor: One who commits a tort.

Tort Reform: In the early to mid-1990s, special interest groups with an enormous bankroll and political clout, including the insurance industry, big business, and the medical community, began a concerted marketing effort to convince the American people that there was a crisis regarding tort cases, alleging that frivolous lawsuits and greedy lawyers were congesting our courts, bankrupting corporations, and draining the economy. These groups lobbied state legislatures to enact numerous statutes and damage caps which hurt the American people by taking away their legal rights to file a claim and receive fair compensation when they have been injured at the hands of another.

The dirty little secret that these “tort reformers” don’t want you to know about is that there is no “crisis” in the tort system. In 2005, the Justice Department reported that the number of federal cases has decreased by 79 percent since 1985. Between 1992 and 2001, the number of civil tort cases decreased by 31.8 percent during that same time. The amount of compensation awarded to victims, who have been seriously injured through no fault of their own, has drastically decreased by 56.3% over the past few years, and punitive damages are only awarded in 3.3% of all tort trials, according to the Department of Justice. For more information on the truth about the civil justice system, please go to www.wisjustice.org/WI.

Trial: Many cases do not settle out of court. For whatever reason, the opposing sides just don’t see eye-to-eye on important issues of liability and/or damages. Typically, the case has already gone through the filing of a lawsuit, discovery, settlement demand stage, arbitration and/or mediation, and is now ready for the formal conclusion of the court process, which is a trial and a jury verdict. There is no stage in the entire process of resolving a personal injury claim in which an individual claimant or an inexperienced attorney will be more vulnerable than at trial.

Vicarious Liability: When one person is liable for the negligent actions of another person, even though the first person was not directly responsible for the injury.

Will: A legal document by which a person directs his or her estate to be distributed upon death.

Wrongful Death: When a person dies due to the negligent or intentional acts of another, a wrongful death claim results. Under common law, an injured person’s death terminated all potential claims for damages arising out of the person’s injuries or death. To fix this unjust result, most states have enacted specific statutes to allow surviving heirs to recover for damages they have suffered due to the death of their relative. In addition, most states have enacted statutes allowing representatives of the deceased’s estate to recover for the damages suffered by the deceased prior to death, commonly referred to as a survival action. Any damages recovered in the survival action are then distributed to beneficiaries according to deceased’s will, or to the deceased’s heirs by the laws of intestate succession if there is no will.

Although survival actions and wrongful death actions are distinct and separate causes of actions in most states, many attorneys use the term “wrongful death action” to refer to both. State statutes differ on which heirs may bring a wrongful death action and/or survival action, as well as the nature, type, and amount of damages recoverable.

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