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Thinking about Tort Reform

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January 20, 2012 by Milton Jones

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Many people, me included, have been critical about controversial features of the Health Reform Act. Perhaps the most important flaw is what the law didn’t include. I refer, of course, to the business of Tort Reform.

Why don’t we just say Legal Reform? “Tort” is a more specific word, so let’s define it: Tort — a wrongful act other than a breach of contract for which relief may be obtained in the form of damages or an injunction.

Why is reform important, you ask? Maybe the following example will suffice. Try to relax and watch TV for a couple of hours and you’ll get to enjoy at least one commercial that sounds like this:

If you took the drug Delusia, and are suffering from kidney failure, call the Law Firm of Eusta B. Hon- est. You may be eligible for compen- sation if you call before …

Okay, so I made that one up. Pick the one you love to hate. There’s quite a list, including (allegedly) defective hip re- placement joints, faulty hernia repair mesh, bad side effects from drugs, etc, ad nauseam.

“So who cares if someone sues the drug company and gets a big settlement,” you ask? “You see, Martha, it might mean your prescriptions would cost a lot more,” he patiently explains.

It gets worse. If lawyers sue on behalf of an individual, they might not get a big enough settlement to be worthwhile (to the lawyer). In a class-action, each ag- grieved plaintiff (you) may get only a few hundred bucks, while the law firm gets the lion’s share.

A generation back, the action was in su- ing your doctor at the drop of the proverbial hat. Your treatment didn’t meet your expectations? Just sue the doctor. After all, his malpractice insurance will cover it, so who cares? So his insurance is high; big deal!

The truth is, excessive and often frivo- lous litigation against doctors has result- ed in pernicious side effects. Remember when the family doctor would make the call. He would either prescribe the medi- cine or schedule surgery. These days, he runs a few extra tests and sends you to a specialist to back up what he knew all along. This is called “defensive medicine,” and is a well-known cause of higher insurance premiums.

Folks, somewhere this has got to stop! This nonsense has gone far enough! Why doesn’t Congress do something? Partly it’s because of the strong influence of lawyers, and partly the fact that the public has not yet become suitably outraged. We don’t know which is worse, ignorance or apathy. Translated, that means you don’t know and don’t care.

In defense of the lawyers, they assert that you should have the right to sue if your health has been destroyed by something egregious, like forgetting to remove the scissors before sewing you up. Okay, granted.

But we’re never going to get a handle on health care costs until we rein in the frivolous lawsuits.

One more thing. Advertising of specific legal services should be banned. But of course, that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?

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