When TIME's Nation section first began working on this week's cover story, which examines the crisis in liability Insurance, it intended to focus on America's courts. Says Nation Editor Walter Isaacson, who oversaw the project: "We were planning to look at the sweepstakes-size jury awards that were being handed out in personal-injury cases. But we kept running into horror stories about manufacturers, doctors, lawyers, peace marchers, transit systems, municipal beaches, even whole towns that were having trouble getting insurance. So we decided to concentrate on the insurance crisis and look at all the causes, including the unpredictable legal system."
Isaacson is accustomed to dealing with knotty political issues. He joined TIME as a staff writer in 1978 and a year later became a correspondent in Washington, where he covered the presidential campaigns of Senator Ted Kennedy and former California Governor Ronald Reagan. He returned to the Nation section in 1981 as a writer. Four years later he was made a senior editor, and in January of this year he became Nation editor. "The Nation section is faced with a wide variety of potential stories to explore each week," says Isaacson. "The challenge is to figure out what is important and interesting. The liability-insurance crisis clearly is both."
Indeed it is. Around the country, TIME correspondents listened to passionate arguments by people on both sides of the insurance crisis. Recalls Chicago Correspondent Barbara Dolan: "There were emotional interviews with people who claimed to suffer horrible damages from negligence and equally emotional sessions with insurers who thought that they were being driven out of business by Americans' greed." In the course of her reporting, Washington Correspondent Anne Constable was similarly struck by the human and legal dimensions of the liability-insurance problem. Says she: "Amid all the tangled issues that lawmakers are sorting through, there are some real flesh-and-blood stories."
Senior Writer George Church, who wrote this week's cover story, his 68th for TIME, found that the problem defied quick explanation. "When you must delve into legal concepts of negligence and the intricacies of insurance-industry accounting in the same story," he says, "you have a considerably more complex story than usual." Many Americans, Church suggests, are only now realizing how deeply they are affected by rising insurance rates. "It is," says Church, "one of those odd things that you never think about until it gets bad enough, and then suddenly it hits you in the face."
Richard B. Thomas