March 23, 2005 – Britain H. Bryant, attorney and former V.I. senator, told the St. Croix Chamber Wednesday that tort reform was possible in the Virgin Islands, but business people would have to be the ones to make it happen.
He said, "You can do it. You have to talk to your governor, your lieutenant governor, and your senators."
He said the high cost of lawsuits was killing small business. "If you don't do something now, you won't have a Chamber of Commerce. There won't be any businesses left on St. Croix."
As examples of how success can be reached in the Virgin Islands, he cited the medical profession and the automobile insurance industry.
He said both groups had successfully lobbied the government to protect them from "runaway jury verdicts."
He said doctors had some protection in medical malpractice suits that would keep most claims at $250,000 or below. According to Bryant, car accident non-economic claims were limited to about $75,000. He emphasized these limits were for non-economic claims such as pain and suffering. He added, "If you have a million-dollar hospital bill it will be paid."
He suggested one way of reform would be to limit compensatory or punitive damages to a ratio of the economic damages. His example was two to one. If the economic damages were $50,000 than the punitive damages could be no higher than $100,000.
Speaking before Bryant at the chamber luncheon at the Cormorant was Javier Lozano. The regional director of the Society for Human Resources spoke on human resource management in the changing work place. He said there is no way a business can avoid all lawsuits.
He said the best advice when faced with a potential lawsuit from an employee is "remain calm, document everything."
He said a primary issue facing human resource managers is the rising cost of health care. He said he expected those costs to double in the next five years.
He said another issue was the aging of the workforce. He formerly worked at Chevron Texaco. He said that company now has more retirees receiving benefits than it has employees working.
Carmelo Rivera, president of the Human Resources Association of St. Croix, introduced the program. He said tort reform was necessary to "bring some reasonableness to the system, so we can survive."
Bryant said that he had drawn up a bill concerning tort reform and but failed to get a senator to bring it to the floor during the 25th Legislature.
On a request from an audience member, he agreed to show the bill to the Chamber to see if they could help get the legislature to pass it.
Bryant, who served six years as a V.I. Senators, got off track slightly. He said, "As we sit here right now, the V.I. government is bankrupt. I know I was there. We have been robbing Peter to pay Paul. But that is a topic for another day."
He said most senators when campaigning for election said they were for tort reform, but he added, "I don't think they really knew what it is."
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