Hear This Out

President Bush, putting aside his campaign to portray Social Security as a disastrous failure and a looming catastrophe, has decided to ignore reality once again and attempt to gain support for another “created crisis” – those damn trial lawyers and all their frivolous lawsuits, getting multi-million dollar settlements for their stupid clients, driving the cost of healthcare up a doctors away from medicine for good.
Sounds good, right? Lets get those damn lawyers! We all hate those insurance scammers and people who are too stupid to be in public suing because they spill coffee in their laps or let their RV slip out of gear when not in at the wheel. These people need to be stopped! These people and their nuisance lawsuits cost all of us millions of dollars in increased insurance premiums and causes many doctors to practice “defensive medicine” or simply stop altogether.
Yup, it sure sounds bad. Too bad it is all complete bullshit.
There actually are not that many frivolous lawsuits filed. And there are far fewer that actually make it into court or take up too much time and resources. Far from the “out of control” system that Bush attempts to depict, the judicial system actually does quite a good job of weeding out the truly meritless cases and does so without much cost via a few key checks set up well before such cases get into a courtroom. Two such checks are the summary judgment that allows a judge can dismiss outright a case with no merit and directed verdicts and JNOV’s which are two mechanisms that judges have available to prevent juries from awarding damages when they should not, and to reduce jury verdicts that are clearly excessive.
Furthermore, doctors are not leaving their practices, Check it out for your self in states all across America – in most cases claims paid and jury awards have gone down and the number of doctors (even OB/GYNs has remained constant or even gone up.
The real culprit in all of this? The insurance companies who won’t pay claims, dictate terms to doctors and, insist upon double digit price hikes each year.
Be aware of the insurance companies (and their Republican cronies) when they keep perpetuating these myths about frivolous lawsuits and realize that it has been going on for decades. We understandably buy into this newly framed idea because it makes sense to us. And as it is repeated until it becomes our truth. But we must fight this idea.
The real victims or “tort reform” then are the victims of negligence and outright sinister behavior by big corporations. Let me give you one example of how myth can become a reality that we all “know”:
Stella Liebeck vs. McDonalds (aka the infamous coffee spilling incident): The facts:
In 1992 72 year old Stella Liebeck ordered and received a Styrofoam cup of coffee heated to a temperature of between 180 and 190 degrees from McDonalds.
The coffee spilled on her legs causing 3rd degree burns on her thighs and genitals and causing her to be hospitalized for 8 days at which time she underwent skin grafts and other medical procedures.
Liebeck sought to settle her claim for $20,000 from McDonalds to cover her medical expenses, but McDonalds refused was not fit for human consumption.
McDonalds was aware of 700 prior cases of its customers being burned by their coffee and their own quality assurance manager had testified that its coffee, held at that temperature. Liquids at the temperatures provided will cause 3rd degree burns in between 2 and 7 seconds. Reducing the temperature to between 155 and 160 (the temperature that McDonalds finally switched to) degrees increases this burn time to closer to 60 seconds.
Throughout the trial McDonalds executives and witnesses displayed a callousness and disregard for the health and safety of its customers that many jurors found to be a deciding factor in the case.
The jury awarded Liebeck $200,000 in compensatory damages. (later reduced to $160,000) and $2.7 million in punitive damages, which was set to equal about two days of McDonald’s coffee sales. The trial court subsequently reduced the punitive award to $480,000
Does that story sound like the one you have been led to believe happened? Do you think that a corporation the knowingly and willfully disregards the safety of its customers deserves the punitive damages such a case can bring.
If you don’t who do you really care about protecting with tort reform?
Other sources:
Op/Ed by Doctor in USA Today
Bush Pushes forTort Reform – CBS News


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Concerned About the Intelligence of Humanity on February 24, 2005 at 9:05 pm

    What? Do you think that McDonalds was really at fault? the National Coffee Association recommends coffe to be made at 190-200 degrees F. Are they the bad guys for making good tasting coffee. Anyone with a single ounce of common sense would know that if you put really hot coffee in you lap, there is a significant risk that it could spill and burn you. Sould McDonalds really be punished for the stupidity of Americans?????

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