The Problem with so-called “Tort Reform.”

For years, we’ve been hearing from the insurance industry that we are overwhelmed by so-called “frivolous lawsuits” and that we could save a lot of money on health care costs by limiting damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. Then Vice President Dick Cheney once said that lawyers file “frivolous lawsuits” because they believe they will be able to “hoo-rah the insurance company into paying them a substantial chunk of money.”

What is actually happening in the real world is far different than the one described by the insurance industry and former Vice President Cheney. The number of personal injury lawsuits filed in the U.S. have been declining for years. According to the National Center For State Courts, personal injury cases accounted for 4.4% of all lawsuits filed in 2008 and declined by 25% between 1999 and 2008.

The insurance industry and it’s allies’ exaggerations in the medical malpractice area are similar. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, costs associated with medical malpractice amounted to less than 2% of all health care spending and even a reduction of 25% to 30% in medical malpractice costs would lower health care costs by only about 0.4 to 0.5%.

So-called tort “reform” restricts the right of the people to go to court and seek redress for grievances. Limits on medical malpractice lawsuits have made it harder for senior citizens, children and stay at home mothers to obtain fair compensation for their injuries. Moreover, caps on damages have done little or nothing to reduce premiums or health care costs.

I’ve been on the front lines of the efforts to fight tort “reform” in Nebraska as a long time member of the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys political action committee and legislative committee. I’ve been part of the effort that has resisted attempts to infringe on our Constitutional right to take wrongdoers to court.

I’m a trial lawyer, a Democratic activist and a sports fan.

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