You may have missed it, but the first week of October was Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week. Was this catchy concept created to raise awareness of people abused by negligence or malpractice who must pursue remedy through the courts?
No. It was created BY the industries who don’t want to be sued for wrongdoing or negligence (and who also happen to have the resources to run ads on Fox, CNN and MSNBC) and who would rather mislead the public into believing that “greedy personal injury lawyers” are filing so many “meritless lawsuits” that win “outrageous jury awards” that the legal system has to be fundamentally changed.
This is the fallacious argument behind “tort reform.” And don’t be confused–it is a fallacious argument. Medical malpractice insurance is a perfect example. The insurance industry says it has to raise rates because it gets sued too much by greedy lawyers. But these charges fall flat in the face of Bush Justice Department figures released this past summer which said that the number of tort cases resolved in US District Courts fell by 79 percent between 1985 and 2003. The truth is that medical malpractice tort costs account for less than two percent of healthcare spending, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Legal awards to patients is simply not where high health insurance costs are coming from. Want to see lower insurance rates? Regulate the industry.
The industry doesn’t want to be regulated, of course, and so it has created a smokescreen. Blame victims and their lawyers. This works because so many people hate lawyers and so few people think that they will be victims. But this is a dangerous game for American citizens. What’s at stake is nothing less than regular people’s access to the courts.
Andrea Batista Schlesinger, Executive Director of the Drum Major Institute, organized an event in New York late last month to highlight the experience of California in dramatically reducing healthcare costs through regulation. As she says, “This issue has yet to permeate the progressive consciousness, and I’m not sure why. This isn’t about defending wealthy trial lawyers, or getting into the minutiae of insurance policy. This is about getting wise to the fact that the insurance industry and the White House have teamed up to boost corporate power at the expense of ordinary people’s access to justice.”
We better get wise fast, though. Because this is one of many issues in which the Democrats can’t be counted on to defend the public, and in which the implications of the decisions made now will have a major impact on our system of justice for the foreseeable future.