In 1986, at least 1,400 bills were introduced in the 44 in session state legislatures responding to what had been deemed throughout the country as a liability insurance crisis. Of those 44 states, 41 passed some type of tort reform legislation in an attempt to deal with this crisis. While this issue was one of the more widely discussed issues across the country and certainly in Washington, it remains one of the most complex and least understood by the public and by the policy makers. It is an issue based in large part upon perception, appearance, and anecdotes rather than fact, thorough analysis, and documentation.
Washington is one of the states that enacted broad sweeping tort reform legislation. While this legislation undoubtedly will affect the course of tort law in this state during the next decade, many seriously doubt it will solve the insurance crisis at all. The availability and affordability of liability insurance are pressing concerns for the people of Washington State. These issues cross all segments of this state’s population, and have severely affected businesses and service industries-from day care operators to tavern owners, from long haul truckers to physicians. These groups joined with municipalities and the insurance companies to press for tort reform. While insurance relief was desired by the Legislature in the passage of ESSB 4630, the reform may not have the desired effect.
This Article reviews the impetus to the passage of the 1986 tort reform legislation, explores the legislation’s salient objectives, and discusses the discrepancies between results and those objectives. This article then will explore some approaches the state legislature may pursue to more directly meet the stated objectives, including practical changes in the civil justice system to reduce the high cost of litigation and changes in insurance industry practices to improve availability and affordability of liability insurance. . .