Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act. Protecting Access to Care Act. Tort reform. Reigning in frivolous lawsuits.
Taken purely at face value, any of these things could be seen as something positive. Who wouldn’t want to keep people from abusing the legal system? Who wouldn’t want to protect access to the care we and our loved ones need to stay healthy (a question that is, admittedly, a bit more difficult to answer now that the country faces the possibility of 20+ million losing access to their health care.)
And what of the reform question? Reform is generally framed as a positive as well. When things are broken and need to be fixed, we reform them and make them better than they were previously.
And we’ve all heard anecdotes of so-called frivolous lawsuits. As plaintiffs’ lawyers, trust us, we’ve heard them all.
The problem, however, is that none of the things in that list have anything to do with their namesakes. Thankfully, and likely to the chagrin of the nation’s lawmakers, more and more people are starting to see that.
Take, for example, an opinion piece recently featured in the Daily Times by long-time journalist Jodine Mayberry. In it, Ms. Mayberry details the story of a child whose chance for a normal and healthy life disappeared before he was even a year old. He will require medical attention for entirety of his life because of a medical error. He will never know the sound of music or birds chirping because he lost his hearing from this error. He’ll never have a conversation because brain damage from this error has taken his ability to process language.
However, if proponents of the so-called Protecting Access to Care Act have their way, the most he’d ever have access to for his lifetime of suffering would be a paltry $250,000. For the rest of his life.
In fact, that’s the world that sponsors of this bill envision: a nationwide cap of $250,000 for any and all non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. How incredibly shortsighted.
The argument that most use is that these “exorbitant” awards drive up health care costs for the rest of us as doctors are forced to practice defensive medicine, or ordering tests simply to avoid getting sued. Sadly, a test run just three days prior would have shown that the boy featured in Ms. Mayberry’s article was suffering from bacterial meningitis. A test run just three days prior would have given a child a chance at a normal life.
It’s easy to jump on bandwagons. It’s easy to watch the news and hear the anecdotes about this multi-million-dollar settlement or that multi-million-dollar jury verdict and come to our own conclusions without knowing all the facts. It’s easy to invoke the cliché of “millions of dollars for spilling some hot coffee on yourself” without knowing that the liquid was approaching boiling temperatures and the millions of dollars claim is outright false.
Like so many other things in our apparent migration toward the language of doublespeak, these things are designed not to help the general citizenry of the country, but to remove that citizenry’s rights and abilities to use the legal tools that have been available to them since the inception of the United States of America. They are designed to make you smile and feel like you’ve accomplished something – like you’re sticking it to someone undeserving – when in fact, the only thing these bills accomplish is the further lining of congressional coffers with juicy campaign contributions from the corporations who benefit.
Shortsighted. Perhaps that’s what we could come to expect from a 68-year old politician whose health insurance has been funded by the American public since he took office in the House in 2002. But for victims like the boy in this story, people who have their entire lives ahead of them or people who need to act in the best interest of their families, we need representatives who have a longer view in mind and refuse to score cheap political points with the few at the horrific expense of so many.