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PERSONAL INJURY TORT REFORM, DO YOU NEED IT?

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Tort reform is among the many issues being thrown around this election season. It has not been acceptable to limit the rights of people that are injured, for corporate profit and greed. Even President Bush couldn’t get his plan passed through a Republican Congress, because of the continued refusal of valid health care claims, the increased lack of control by government over these companies, and ongoing disgust of the public with governmental inaction.

If Democrats regain control In November and have a house majority, major tort reform will still face an uphill fight. Whether you are a democrat or republican, this issue does affect us all and it’s interesting to see where the candidates stand on this issue. Let’s review some of the front runners on both sides before “Super Tuesday” which includes California voters. Democrats:Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have very similar views on universal healthcare reform, medical malpractice and patient safety.

Before they officially became presidential candidates, the Illinois and New York senators co-authored an article in the May 25, 2006 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, entitled “Making Patient Safety the Centerpiece of Medical Liability Reform.”

They sympathized with physicians over increasing insurance costs and condemned the current tort system for creating an “intimidating liability environment.” Still, Clinton and Obama said that it’s more important to focus on how to improve patient safety than creating caps on financial awards to patients. They introduced legislation, which died in committee in 2006, to provide money and assistance to physicians, hospitals, insurers, and health care systems to start programs for disclosure of medical errors and compensation to patients. The bill would have created an office of patient safety and health care quality to establish a database to track incidents of malpractice and fund research into guidelines to prevent future injuries.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, a top personal injury attorney himself unsurprisingly opposes caps on awards, but endorses “mandatory sanctions for lawyers who file frivolous cases, stronger state medical disciplinary boards, and a knowledge bank that encourages doctors to report medical errors voluntarily, making others aware of preventable mistakes.” He would bar attorneys with a history of filing frivolous lawsuits from filing new ones.

Republicans: Arizona Sen. John McCain said tort reform is a top priority. He’s supported caps on awards and liability reform. His position is that frivolous lawsuits are driving up costs resulting in defensive medicine. One major factor is that doctors are now so worried about being sued that they inundated the patient with needless medical tests. He feels that this will lead to slower advances within the medical community and therefore, less technological advances. Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts’s governor supported caps on personal injury awards. He wants a system in place that allows doctors to admit errors without fear of reprisal in court. He also is in favor of lowering attorney’s contingency fees. He would also encourage states to create health courts with judges experienced in handling medical liability cases and would ask states to sanction lawyers who repeatedly file frivolous claims. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee supports tort reform. While he was governor, he signed the signed the Civil Justice Reform Act which set a $1 million limit on punitive damages in civil cases, calling it “an important step towards achieving affordable health care and helping the state attract and keep businesses.” And finally, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. If he is elected, he would give federal courts more discretion to quickly dismiss cases to reduce frivolous lawsuits. He would also reform rules to require losers to pay costs and fees of their opponents if they cannot meet the burden of demonstrating a good faith basis for the suit. If you want to keep up with legislation on tort reform, visit www.atra.org for further information.

Personally, I am opposed to tort reform that places any cap on damages. Let the jury decide if the case warrants damages and how much. In this way justice is preserved. What does a 1 million dollar punitive damage award mean to a company that marketed a known dangerous drug to millions of people for billions of dollars. It means nothing and allows the officers of the corporation to value life as a risk rather than a priority.

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