Is N.C. a ‘sucker’ state?

A new report says North Carolina is a “sucker” because its legal climate is ripe for greedy lawyers seeking a payday.

The report released Tuesday by the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco ranked each state’s tort-system using three measures, reports Titan Barksdale.

Researchers at the institute say that although North Carolina doesn’t have a lot of litigation compared to other states, it is lax on rules to control tort actions. So the report characterized North Carolina as a sucker.

But Thomas B. Metzloff, a civil-law professor at Duke University, warned that the report has a pro-business leaning.

“These [measures] are loaded with an anti-citizen and anti-plaintiff spin,” Metzloff said. “If you get a group of lawyers, judges and law professors in a room, they would have field day criticizing these variables.”

The study ranked North Carolina third in one measure because of low damage awards, and low litigation risks in the state. Alaska and North Dakota are ranked ahead of North Carolina. North Carolina, however, ranked 25th in another measure that looked at tort reform.

“I think this is an absurd way to rank this,” Metzloff said. “Medical malpractice controls were big in the report, and I think the state has done a good job at improving how medical malpractice cases are settled. It has avoided some of the Draconian measures that could hurt the interest of injured patients.”

Re: Is N.C. a ‘sucker’ state?

Duke University law professor Thomas Metzloff proves why you should never ask a lawyer to do an economist’s job. When economists assess the quality of any industry–in our case the lawsuit industry–they assess costs and risks using objective data. That is what we did in the “U.S. Tort Liability Index: 2008 Report” to produce a state-by-state ranking of relative tort costs and relative tort-litigation risks. The rankings are based solely on the best available, objective data. North Carolina is ranked 3rd best overall.

It is literally impossible to put an “anti-citizen and anti-plaintiff spin” on the cost/risk data that we used since it is objective data; independent of the authors and not based on any subjective opinion of the authors.

Metzloff’s comments on medical-malpractice cases in North Carolina actually support our data in the report. The state has enacted some reforms in med-mal that put the state’s med-mal tort rules in the bottom third of all states–we agree that there have not been “Draconian” reforms. But as a result of its weaker med-mal tort rules, its med-mal tort losses are in the middle range–26th–showing the direct link between tort rules and resulting tort losses. Metzloff and other North Carolina residents might be happy being 26th, but others might think differently. This is a political decision that North Carolinians must decide for themselves, but thanks to our report, they now can make an informed decision.

Also, nowhere in the report do we say that “North Carolina doesn’t have a lot of litigation compared to other states.” In fact, the report notes that North Carolina has the 18th-highest number of civil cases filed per 100,000 residents. The lack of strong tort rules on the books–25th overall looking at tort reforms actually adopted by states–will make North Carolina a relatively more attractive place for plaintiffs to file lawsuits in the future compared to other states. This is why we classified North Carolina as a “sucker” state–it is resting on its past laurels and not being reform minded compared to other states, especially other states in the Southeast. Expect North Carolina’s tort costs and risks to rise in the future as a result.

Dr. Lawrence J. McQuillan
Director, Business and Economic Studies
Pacific Research Institute
Coauthor of the “U.S. Tort Liability Index: 2008 Report”

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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