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June 10, 1999 

Public Policy Institute criticizes New York Times for two stories on tort reform

The Public Policy Institute, The Business Councils research affiliate, has taken the New York Times to task for two recent stories on tort reform.

The Institute, strongly criticized the two stories in a letter to the Times June 8.

He noted that a June 6 story cited tort-reform advocates "misleading" use of anecdotes. That story made prominent mention of An Accident and a Dream, The Institutes landmark 1998 study on lawsuit abuse in New York State.

The next day, the same writer offered a front-page story in which three anecdotes were used in an attempt to make the case that tort reform in Texas has been damaging to plaintiffs.

Shaffer also criticized the newspaper for linking the rulings of one Texas judge to his onetime corporate connections--without also asking about trial-lawyer money that supports self-styled "consumer groups" that oppose tort reform.

The letter also asked: "Why does the Times refer to campaign finance reform as such--but then put tort reform in quotes, the journalistic equivalent of a sneer?"

"Tort reform and tort reformers should not be dismissed so lightly," Shaffer added. "The facts, had they been reported, would make a more interesting story than any of this."

"The incontrovertible fact is that our liability system is costly. It is inefficient in the way it redresses injuries. And it often penalizes rather than protects parties that are advancing public safety," he wrote.

"Society is getting safer but injury lawsuits are increasing," he added, noting that a 10 percent decline in accidents is inconsistent with an 89 percent increase in accident-related lawsuits--"until you discover that the number of lawyers in New York is growing 26 times as fast as the states population."