Torts & Civil Justice Messaging


The system that handles lawsuits among individuals and corporations should be called the “civil justice system.”

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Tort reform

Lawsuit abuse

Trial lawyer

Personal injury lawyer

Civil justice

Equal justice

Just and fair compensation

Hold corporations accountable when they duck responsibility for misconduct

Rig the system

Why . . .

The right wing tort reform strategy is to focus attention on the plaintiff’s lawyer and ignore the victim, the injury and the misconduct that caused it. We must do the opposite—focus on victims, injuries and misconduct, not the attorneys. Americans understand that courts must deliver justice, so use that term. And polls show that voters are actually more worried about the corporate abuse of consumers, employees and shareholders than abuses by lawyers or plaintiffs.

Make it clear that what our right wing opponents call tort reform isn’t reform at all—it’s a cruel shifting of costs from rich companies that caused injuries to the unfortunate people who were injured. And that’s unfair. Whenever possible, use local examples to make your case and get the focus back where it should be.

Say . . .

Our courts need to be in the business of delivering justice. We cannot deny innocent people just and fair compensation for injuries, especially when they’re taking on the most powerful interests. We need a level playing field. My opponent’s policies would tilt state law to shift the cost of injuries from a company that’s at fault to the victim who is innocent. I’m going to fight for equal justice for all. 

Why . . .

Why say “we cannot deny … just and fair compensation” instead of “we must ensure [they] receive just and fair compensation”? Persuadable voters are more strongly moved by a plea framed as protecting people from being denied something than one framed as giving or providing that same right or benefit.

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Give rights or benefits

Don’t deny rights or necessities

Right wing argument: Tort reform saves everyone money by stopping frivolous litigation. 

Say . . .

The goal of our legal system is justice. This kind of legislation rigs the system to make it harder for injured Americans to hold wrongdoers accountable. The rich, and big corporations, push for this legislation because it shifts the responsibility of paying for the cost of injuries from them—the ones who caused the damage—to the innocent victim. That’s not justice. 

Right wing argument: We need tort reform because medical malpractice lawsuits jack up health care costs. 

Say . . .

First, the point of our court system is justice. We should not rig the system to benefit either one side or the other. Second, the Congressional Budget Office reported that restricting lawsuits for medical negligence would save less than one-half percent of health care costs. It would have virtually no effect on the price we pay for health insurance, and at the same time it would punish innocent victims. That’s not justice.

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