Can Americans Afford Tort Reform?

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The Bush Administration is pushing hard for Tort reform. A tort is an act by one party which contributes to the harm or loss of another under civil law. The President says tort reform will greatly reduce the cost of health care in America. That is not true. The fastest growing costs in health care do not come from insurance premiums for malpractice insurance. They make up only a small percentage of health care costs overall.

But, if the President's tort reform did reduce malpractice insurance premiums, it would be because injured parties will be less able to find an attorney willing to risk the full cost of losing the case. Most attorneys handling torts are paid on a percentage basis of the awards from the suit. If the President's tort reform is enacted and it does lower malpractice insurance premiums, it will only be due to the fact that the harmed or injured cannot afford to sue.

The President leaves the impression that tort attorneys are rich fat cats living high off the current tort litigation system. That is not born out by fact. Tort attorney's incomes are only slightly above that of other kinds of attorneys. There is evidence that rising malpractice insurance premiums occur from the governments and professional oversight groups not doing their jobs. That is to say, that the bulk of medical practitioners who are sued are the same ones, over and over again. It begs the question, why are they still practicing medicine?

Tort reform will not apply only to the medical profession. Tort reform will be a windfall for less than ethical businesses and corporations in America like auto manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and tobacco giants. If caps are placed on the amount of punitive and economic damages that can be awarded, businesses can factor in the higher profitability at the expense of harm to the public. For example, Ford was sued over the Pinto which was killing its drivers due to a bad design of a bolt's placement adjacent to the gas tank. Ford knew rear end collisions would result in the occupants being burned alive, but, rationalized that it would be more profitable to pay the law suits rather than recall all the Pintos and correct the misplaced bolt. Unlimited economic and punitive damages prevent businesses from making such calculated harm to the public decisions for profit.

Like many items on the President's agenda, he is selling titanic reforms for issues requiring small fixes. There is a problem with our tort system. It permits far too many frivolous and non-factually based law suits to occur. However, capping economic and punitive damages against corporate America and professionals is an answer that will create greater injustices and problems for the American public than it will fix. What is needed is a pre-trial screening process.

However, tort laws are governed by state law. What the President is proposing is federalizing the tort system. This is totally inconsistent with the President's other agenda of downsizing federal government and reducing the intrusiveness of federal government into American citizen's lives. There is a state's rights issue at stake with the President's tort reform proposals, in which he proposes that the Federal government dictate to the states how they are to handle local issues of law suits and negligence issues.

The President is relying on scare tactics and misinformation to push his tort reform agenda designed primarily to protect his corporate campaign contributing buddies from being held accountable for their actions. These are the same tactics he used to sell the American public on invading Iraq, and which he is using to on Social Security reform. It would appear, the President having succeeded in taking America into Iraq on false information and invalidated premises, feels having gotten away with Iraq without political repercussions must mean he has a mandate to use the same tactics with all his reform agendas. The public should beware, for if the President's tort reform passes, it may be they who fall victim to the next Pinto or alcoholic surgeon who removes the wrong organ from their body.

There is an excellent fact and data site on tort reform with more links and information on this subject that one could hope for called NewsBatch. I highly recommend it for the details on this extremely important topic.

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This page contains a single entry by David R. Remer published on January 17, 2005 12:15 PM.

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