Even if you’re not preparing to send a son or daughter to college for the first time, the signs of the start of a new semester are inescapable. From the incessant pre-season football frenzy to the endless lines at your local Target, nobody is immune to the higher education version of back-to-school hype. While [...]

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Medical Liability: Focus Should Be Patient Safety

Why do conservative politicians and lawmakers continue to bark about the need for medical tort reform? Why does ALEC and other corporate lobbying groups want so badly to limit the rights of those most seriously injured because of medical errors? After all, every legitimate study shows that the “cost” of medical liability payments to those who are the victims of medical malpractice represents but a nanoparticle out of total annual health care costs.

When the administrative office of Pennsylvania’s court system issues data on the numbers of case filings, the number of medical malpractice cases is consistently down from its high points. Data on the results of jury verdicts, even in the “judicial hellhole” that is Philadelphia (as characterized by tort-reform proponents), show a overwhelming advantage for the defendant doctor or hospital.

Even prominent tort reform advocates admit, when pressed, that our legal system is not being inundated with frivolous medical malpractice claims. Victor Schwartz, the general of the American Tort Reform Association, one of the most influential voices for curbing the rights of victims of tort reform, has conceded: “It is ‘rare or unusal’ for a plaintiff lawyer to bring a frivolous malpractice suit because they are too expensive to bring.”

Why do Republicans continue to press this issue then? The answer, plain and simple, is money. Any rule or restriction that limits recovery for those injured by medical mistakes – such as a cap on the amount of monetary damages a plaintiff may recover in a civil lawsuit – means more money in the hands of medical malpractice insurance companies.

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Debunking Another Tort Reform Myth
medical care costs

In the days after the Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed that Republicans would retake control of the United States Senate and then, as their top priority, would “repeal and replace Obamacare.” On July 1st, Fox News’ Chris Wallace challenged Sen. McConnell on how he would then deal with 30 million uninsured.

McConnell’s back-of-the-hand remark to Wallace – “That’s not the issue” – received the most attention in the media. Though insensitive, politically and otherwise, McConnell’s attempt to explain the “replace” part of his prescription was more worrisome.

First, McConnell said, Obamacare would be repealed. No ifs, ands or buts. Second, the Kentucky Republican promised, Obamacare would be replaced with “more modest reforms,” like “lawsuit reform,” which he claimed was necessary because of the “billions and billions” hospitals and doctors are paying every year because of lawsuits.

Tort reform? That old Republican chestnut? A cap on money damages as a way to solve the problems with our health care system by reducing health care costs? Why yes, McConnell and others say and have said for years as they receive steady donations from insurance companies and the Chamber of Commerce and others promoting talk of “frivolous lawsuits” and “jackpot juries” and “judicial hellholes.”

Nothing new in all this. What is new is fresh evidence, courtesy of Public Citizen, that the conservative cry for “lawsuit reform” is not the answer. Or, how about this, Senator McConnell: That old dog won’t hunt.

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Exposing ALEC in Pennsylvania
Scales of Justice

Alec Baldwin is a star of the large and small screens. He is good and funny. ALEC, on the other hand, is no laughing matter. And there is nothing good about ALEC, unless you’re one of the big companies that funds its work and benefits from its efforts to curtail individual rights.

Most of us knew nothing about ALEC – the American Legislative Exchange Council – until the Trayvon Martin controversy. ALEC led the way in Florida (and other states) lobbying for passing a Stand Your Ground law, which is now the basis for George Zimmerman’s defense against charges he shot shot dead an unarmed teenager.

If you don’t know much about ALEC, you should and a good place to start is a new report, issued earlier this month by the group Take Back Our Courts, a project of the Pennsylvania-based Keystone Progress. The report, “Justice Denied in Pennsylvania,” examines ALEC’s background and its agenda as well as its influence on Pennsylvania legislators. http://takingbackourcourts.org/justice-denied-in-pennsylvania/

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“Just Close Your Eyes.” Excuse me???

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s defense of a proposed state law that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion shows just how out of touch some Republican men are. Actually, maybe “out of touch” isn’t the correct phrase. After all, the proposed legislation is all about forcing women to be “touched.”

At a news conference last week, Governor Corbett shrugged off the intrusive requirements of the inaptly-named Women’s Right to Know Act (House Bill 1077), saying, “I don’t know how you make anybody watch, OK? Because you just have to close your eyes.”

Close your eyes? How would the Governor feel if he was required by law to submit to a physical examination of his penis and an evaluation of his erectile function before a physician could write a prescription for Viagra? I suppose he could just close his eyes.

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A Philadelphia Lawyer Story
Photo by Northwest Herald Photo by Northwest Herald

When I first began thinking about writing this blog, I thought: I am a trial lawyer. I am a former investigative journalist. And I live in Philadelphia.

So, naturally, I thought of Andrew Hamilton.

The expression, “a Philadelphia lawyer,” as in, a lawyer who is an exceptionally talented attorney-advocate, can be traced back nearly 300 years, to Andrew Hamilton. It’s been a few years, but his is still a really good story.

In the early-1700s, Hamilton crossed the Atlantic from Scotland and settled in Philadelphia. He met and worked with William Penn and that opened some doors politically. At various times, Hamilton served as Pennsylvania’s attorney general and Speaker of the House of Representatives. He is also credited with helping design the building that became Independence Hall. That’s not a bad list of accomplishments.

Hamilton is best known perhaps for being one of the most highly regarded trial lawyers of his day. One case in particular earned him his claim to fame: his defense in 1735 of John Peter Zenger for seditious libel.

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