Cross-posted to Huffington Post. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-tarricone/tort-reform-hypocrites-do_b_511123.html.
For nearly a year, the only ideas opponents of health care reform would discuss were “tort reform” and “frivolous lawsuits.” With 40 million people uninsured and skyrocketing health care costs, the GOP concluded – despite all the facts to the contrary – that trial attorneys and litigation were to blame for all of the current health care system’s woes.
Now that monumental legislation has been signed into law, what do these reform opponents do next?
Hire lawyers and file lawsuits of their own.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with parties using the legal system to solve disputes when no other solution is available. That’s why we have such a system in the first place. Our forefathers, for this very reason, created the judicial branch. Individuals, small businesses, corporations, and governments use it all the time.
But it’s awfully hypocritical for lawmakers to curtail Americans’ access to the civil justice system, and at the same time, file lawsuits to push their own self-serving agenda. While today they brand the health care bill as a “Washington takeover of health care” and that it violates states’ rights, just yesterday they wanted to enact sweeping federal tort reform and trump the wisdom of judges and juries in states or local communities.
This certainly is not the first time we’ve seen “tort reform hypocrisy” in action, and won’t be the last. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce – which has a whole arm that lobbies for laws to give negligent corporations immunity – also has a group dedicated to pursuing litigation on behalf of these very same corporations. Robert Bork, one of the most ardent supporters of the tort reform movement, filed suit three years ago against Yale after a slip-and-fall on their property. And former Senator Trent Lott tried to enact tort reform dozens of times, but after Hurricane Katrina, found himself with thousands of other Gulf Coast residents whose only remaining recourse was through the courts after insurance companies refused to pay claims.
For years, lawmakers beholden to insurance companies, the drug industry, Wall Street, or other corporate lobbies have pushed to undermine the right of every American to access our legal system. In their view, Americans shouldn’t hold wrongdoers accountable – the free market could police itself.
How has the free market operated in the last few years? We’ve experienced the worst financial crisis in a generation, Enron, Bernie Madoff, contaminated food, runaway vehicles, and a constant assault on the rights of workers and consumers.
If opponents of the current health care bills want to use the courts to undermine the bill, America thankfully has a more-than-capable judiciary that can settle the dispute. But next time these same lawmakers demand tort reform – a ploy to protect big corporations at the expense of the American people – don’t fall for their old credo: “do as I say, not as I sue.”