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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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.

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Tort Reform Hypocrite
Rick Santorum

Now that Rick Santorum is a legitimate contender for the Republican Party nomination, the rest of the country is learning things about this politician that those of us in Pennsylvania have know for a while now. (In 2006, Pennsylvanians tossed him out of the U.S. Senate; the margin of defeat was the largest for any Republican incumbent in Pennsylvania history.)

Rick Santorum was a man of many controversies during his time in the Senate. During his improbable presidential run, he has continued to find ways to attract lightning.

Although his views against contraception have received a lot of attention in the last few weeks, Santorum’s position on tort reform reveals hypocrisy on number of levels. If his candidacy continues and the health-care debate retakes center stage, his tort reform views will become even more important to understand.

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Hot Coffee (A Review)
Hot Coffee (A Review)

Most people have heard something of the McDonald’s coffee case. That is the one about the woman who spilled hot coffee on herself after leaving a fast-food drive-thru and then filed a frivolous lawsuit so she could cash in and make millions from our jackpot jury system, right?


Susan Saladoff’s important film documentary, “Hot Coffee,” shows how powerful corporate interests, aided by the news media, have distorted the story of this case to wage a PR war against the rights of individuals who seek redress in the courts. By making the McDonald’s coffee cup case the poster child for “tort reform,” corporate lobbyists like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and political consultants such as Karl Rove have steered millions of dollars to efforts to sway public opinion against those who have been injured and who rely on the courts to hold wrongdoers accountable.

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