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Monthly Archives: February 2010

Durbin debunks medical malpractice myths at White House summit

Senator Dick Durbin offered a stunning rebuke of medical malpractice myths and an impassioned defense of the civil justice system at the White House summit on health care earlier this week.

Senator Durbin has a lot of credibility relative to this discussion. Before he went to Congress, Durbin worked in a courtroom. For years, he defended doctors and hospitals, and for years he sued them on behalf of people who were victims of medical malpractice. He has represented interests on both sides of the table.

As he pointed out, if medical malpractice deform is included in the health care bill, we will lose accountability. And because of that, 4,800 people will die each year according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Institute of Medicine tells us that currently 98,000 people a year die in America because of medical malpractice. Rather than increase that number, we should be looking at ways to reduce medical errors.

You can view the remarks of Senator Durbin by clicking on the image below or clicking here. You can review the text of his remarks by clicking here. For a primer on medical malpractice issues in the healthcare debate, click here.

Why we need trial lawyers

We have heard a consistent refrain over the last decade about the need to curb lawsuits and restrict trial lawyers. The events involving sudden acceleration and Toyota vehicles have demonstrated how wrongheaded that refrain is, and how trial lawyers are necessary for the administration of justice.

Today, even the Wall Street Journal has editorialized about the importance of trial lawyers. In the article, the writers noted how Toyota is only the latest example of lethal defects gone unaddressed by regulators. The article pointed out that:

The alleged need for “tort reform” has become a refrain in American political life. Yet for all the demonizing of trial lawyers, the reality is that product-liability litigation has become an ever more important means of keeping consumers safe.

Case in point: the current Toyota Motor Corp. recalls, with their attendant revelations of corporate obfuscation. This is only the most recent situation in which lethal defects have gone uncorrected for years at least in part because of insufficient government oversight.

As a result, consumers are increasingly left with the courts not only to compensate them when the regulatory system fails to protect them, but also to deter manufacturers from cutting corners in the future. And product liability lawsuits have played a crucial role in ensuring public safety, encouraging—and sometimes compelling—manufacturers to put safety first.

Litigation has not only advanced public safety, but has encouraged improvement in products almost too numerous to mention: air bags, seat belts, child safety seats, tires, minivan doors, hot water vaporizers, children’s pajamas, farm machinery, firearms, building materials, tobacco products, intra-uterine contraceptive devices, tampons, sleeping pills, anti-depressants, pain medication, appetite suppressants and many more. Toyota is just another sign of how much work remains to be done.

We only hope that politicians will keep this in mind the next time they are asked by lobbyists to rein in lawsuits. To read the full WSJ piece, click here.

Damage caps ruled unconstitutional in Illinois

The Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s $500,000 cap on awards for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors, finding that the limits set by the Legislature violate the state constitution’s separation of powers principle. The court threw out a law passed by the Illinois General Assembly in 2005 which was designed to protect healthcare, but did so at the expense of injured people. We blogged about this case in December 2008 (click here to read that post).

The ruling involved a case filed on behalf of Abigaile Lebron, whose lawsuit was later combined with two other actions challenging the damages cap. Lebron suffered a brain injury as she was being delivered by a doctor and nurse at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in the Chicago suburb of Melrose Park. The lower court ruled that the cap on damages “operates as a legislative remittitur which ‘disregards the jury’s careful deliberative process in determining damages that will fairly compensate injured plaintiffs who have proven their causes of action'” and thus violates separation of powers. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the lower court ruling.

We applaud this decision as it reaffirms the importance of juries in deciding disputes. And it is a great victory for injured consumers. As we have said repeatedly, capping malpractice suits will not make healthcare cheaper and robs injured persons of their rights to be compensated for what has been taken away from them. This continuing effort to blame lawsuits for spiraling health costs is puzzling and unwarranted. The focus should shift to efforts on curbing negligent treatment of patients. Indeed, wouldn’t safer practices eliminate lawsuits and lower premiums?

You can read the full Illinois Supreme Court decision by clicking here.