Some politicians. like Lamar Alexander, yesterday, like to reduce the medical malpractice debate down to a soundbite. Get rid of the "junk lawsuits" is the usual cry. Naturally, I and, hopefully, you understand the impact that negligent doctors have on the lives of real people. We “get it”, don’t we? We know that these "junk lawsuit" politicians are in bed with pro-business, pro-insurance interests, but I often wonder whether these politicians have any clue what tort reform really means to those who suffer at the hands of it in the real world.
Yesterday, Mr. Alexander talked about his plan or outline for a health care bill. Among his talking points was his suggestion that we stop "junk lawsuits" that drive doctors out of town. Filing, administering to, financing and pursuing a lawsuit is serious, time consuming, exhausting, hard work. It is very stressful. Serious attorneys who represent the best interests of their clients and the cause of justice in America take the filing of a lawsuit very seriously. Simply stated, they don’t file "junk". It isn’t "junk lawsuits" that are filed in state and federal courts around the country. It isn’t "junk lawsuits" that garner the large settlements or jury verdicts that are latched onto and reported in the press. These are serious lawsuits, filed as the result of serious breaches of important standards of care, that cause serious injuries and death to innocent people. The people who file them did nothing to deserve their fate. They were, simply, victims of these serious breaches of the standard of care who suffered greatly as the result. It isn’t "junk lawsuits" that get to court. Most medical malpractice cases, filed in court, are so horrendous, that no one in their right mind would think twice about why the plaintiff sued the doctor.
"Junk lawsuits" do not drive a single doctor out of town. Serious ones do. The doctors leave because they have worn out their welcome; they can now move on, where nobody knows them, and continue to breach the standards of care on new patients in other cities and states. Do you want these doctors in your town? Bad doctors, negligent doctors, indifferent doctors, careless doctors, doctors that misdiagnose or fail to diagnose cause very serious injuries and death to real people. That is the reality; "junk lawsuits" are the myth. In fact, these doctors are not sued for the damages they cause more often than they are sued. Patients and patients’ attorneys take the filing of a medical malpracitce case very seriously. Cases where consequences are minor are not pursued in any significant number. Certainly, there are exceptions, but there is no benefit to any patient or attorney to file a "junk lawsuit". Bad doctoring is the “real” cause of medical malpractice, not "junk lawsuits". "Junk" makes for nice rhetoric and a good sound bite. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near being accurate.
Tort reform is not about people. Tort reform is about saving insurance companies money by limiting payouts in medical malpractice and other types of negligence lawsuits. Seriously injured people are screwed over; insurance industry driven tort reform assures that someone who has sustained a life-altering injury and will never be able to function normally again for the rest of their lives, will not have enough money to support themselves. That burden will fall on the American taxpayer. Is that fair?
Is it fair that a doctor and any other medical professionals or institutions have their liability capped for causing grave damage and or death to an innocent person? For ruining lives? For turning lives upside down without financial accountability for medical errors? Of course it’s not fair, but some politicians, whose pockets are lined with insurance company money, argue that it is, even though they know better. Does a "junk lawsuit" need a cap? Shame on these lying liars.
Lawsuit Financial, the pro-justice lawsuit funding company asks: What happened to the “human factor” in medicine? Isn’t the tenet “first, do no harm?” And aren’t nsurance companies there to insure and protect people against these very kinds of errors? Oh, wait, making money got in the way and became more important than human life; profits became more important than people. That’s the problem; stopping them is our burden. It is up to us, we the people, to put a stop to the madness that is tort reform.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.