Tort Reform: How These Dirty Words Are Bleaching Your Rights

Currently, the law in Pennsylvania limits how much money personal injury victims can recover when suing those responsible for their injuries. Insurance companies love this rule because it allows them to cap how much money they’re paying out for negligence and other bad behavior. As much as insurance companies enjoy all the money caps on damages save them, they’d like to keep more. Under the banner of “tort reform” industry giants wage battles to manipulate public perception, guide friendly politicians into office and write legislation that eliminates the rights of people to access the civil justice system. Lawyers utilize personal injury resources in Pennsylvania and other states across the country to inform everyday citizens of just how bad these moves can be for them.

Same Tune, Different Town

Insurance companies and doctors say tort reform is a mandatory component of fixing the broken medical malpractice system in Pennsylvania. They argue that tort reform will eliminate frivolous lawsuits, lower healthcare costs and lead to lower insurance premiums. This tune isn’t new – they’ve played it in other states before, including Texas. In 2003, lawmakers squeaked legislation onto the books that capped damages in lawsuits against doctors to $250,000 and lawsuits against hospitals at $750,000. Then Governor Rick Perry lauded the new regulations, claiming they’d reform healthcare in Texas.

Healthcare across the Nation

By 2010, the average coverage premium for family health insurance in Texas was $14,526 – $655 higher than the national average. Doctors and insurance companies didn’t pass those promised savings onto consumers. Surprised?

In fact, while insurance companies and doctors were rallying against medical malpractice lawsuits, payments from malpractice suits fell 11.9 percent. That’s right, according to Public Citizen, medical malpractice payments dropped 11.9 percent between 2000 and 2010. Meanwhile, healthcare spending increased by 90 percent over the same time period across the nation. Liability insurance premiums – those costs doctors and hospitals contend are crippling their ability to practice medicine – fell in 2009 to a scant 0.40 of 1 percent of total healthcare costs, according to the National Practitioner Data Bank. These figures include all profits and administrative costs as well as fees for litigation.  

All this data points to a simple fact: doctors and insurance companies simply can’t draw a connection between medical malpractice suits and rising healthcare costs. Preventing patients from holding physicians accountable for negligence doesn’t make costs cheaper. In fact, whenever states choose to cap damages, they only increase insurance company profits.  

Pennsylvania bad faith insurance lawyers realize the importance of preserving the rights of people to access the civil justice system. If lawmakers allow the type of civil rights removal masked as reform that happened in Texas to occur in Pennsylvania, dark clouds may be on the horizon. Without the threat of litigation, insurance companies and doctors have no incentive to deal with people honorably and preserve standards of care.  

Links within in content

Pennsylvania bad faith insurance lawyers  

Personal injury resources in Pennsylvania  

Film Review: “Hot Coffee”

While attending the Progressive Summit I stopped at a table and picked up a copy of the documentary film “Hot Coffee.”  The HBO production begins with the massive PR saga launched by McDonalds against an elderly woman who received third degree burns from their coffee.  The incident in Albuquerque led to a $2.9 million jury verdict (then struck down by a judge to much less) and has been the poster case for tort reform activists ever since.  What you don’t know is that she wasn’t driving or even drinking the coffee.  Seated in a nephew’s car while parked she was simply taking the cap off to add cream and sugar.  McDonalds served its coffee at temperatures between 180 and 190 degrees (since the suit they’ve lowered it ten degrees).  This is as hot as the antifreeze gets in your car’s radiator.

The film goes on to show how the corporations and their front groups have used this and similar worthy litigation to misinform the public and brainwash them into abandoning their right to hold corporations accountable for negligence.  McDonalds had received over 700 complaints about their hot coffee prior to Stella Liebeck’s severe injuries.  They chose not to do anything and even after losing this lawsuit did very little.  I know that after I learned the true nature of the litigation years ago I swore never to buy coffee at McDonalds and I never have.  Of course I generally eat at fast food places rarely.

“Hot Coffee” goes on to document the laws passed at state levels to restrict citizens access to the courts in the name of reform.  Then it goes to how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the lobbying and campaign operation of big business, went about buying state Supreme Court judges who would uphold these unconstitutional laws.  It then tells two stories, one about a teenager with severe brain injury due to a doctor’s negligence and how Nebraska tort reform screwed him.  A young woman tells her tale about working for Halliburton in Iraq and getting raped then locked in a cargo container.  Because her employment contract mandated company approved arbitration she was denied her day in court.

“Hot Coffee” is a well done, well researched and well told tale of how Big Business has bought off our right to sue them for intentional negligence.  It’s a sorry tale and an example of how corporate media brainwashes stupid Americans into relinquishing our rights.  If anyone wants to watch the movie ask me for my copy.