Sunday, February 20, 2005

When I say "tort reform", I mean for YOU, not ME.

It's not like you need even more evidence of Republican hypocrisy but, what the hell, here you go. Apparently, when Republicans promote the idea of tort reform to bar "frivolous lawsuits" or to cap awards, they really mean that for you, not for them. Some choice excerpts from this piece:

As a United States Senator, Rick Santorum has repeatedly supported limits on consumers' rights to seek compensation in the courts. In 1994, Santorum sponsored the Comprehensive Family Health Access and Savings Act that would have capped non-economic damages at $250,000. In a 1995 floor speech supporting damages caps, Santorum said, "We have a much too costly legal system. It is one that makes us uncompetitive and inefficient, and one that is not fair to society as a whole. While we may have people, individuals, who hit the jackpot and win the lottery in some cases, that is not exactly what our legal system should be designed to do."

But the same rhetoric does not seem to apply to Senator Santorum. In December 1999 Santorum supported his wife’s medical malpractice lawsuit against her chiropractor for $500,000. At trial, the Senator testified that his wife should be compensated for the pain and suffering caused by a botched spine adjustment, claiming that she had to "treat her back gingerly" and could no longer accompany him on the campaign trail. After the verdict, Santorum refused to answer phone calls asking what impact the case had on his views of "tort reform." According to his spokesman Robert Traynham, "Senator Santorum is of the belief that the verdict decided upon by the jury during last week’s court case of his wife is strictly a private matter. The legislative positions that Senator Santorum has taken on tort reform and health care have been consistent with the case involving Mrs. Santorum." In January 2000, a judge set aside the $350,000 verdict, deeming it excessive, and offered a reduced award of $175,000 or a new trial on damages only.

Heh. I'll just bet he didn't want to talk about it. And what about those "frivolous" lawsuits? Let's ask Commander Smirky what he thinks of them:

As Texas Governor, George W. Bush was one of the "tort reform" movement’s biggest proponents. One of Bush’s first acts as governor in 1995 was to meet with representatives of nine Texas Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) chapters in a salsa factory outside of Austin, after which he declared a legislative "emergency" on "frivolous lawsuits." Over his two terms, Bush signed a series of brutal bills that severely reduced injured consumers' rights to go to court.

However, when it comes to solving problems involving his own family, Bush heads straight to court. In 1999, Bush sued Enterprise Rent-A-Car over a minor fender-bender involving one of his daughters in which no one was hurt. Although his insurance would have covered the repair costs, making a lawsuit unnecessary, Bush sought additional money from Enterprise, which had rented a car to someone with a suspended license. In this case, Bush seemed to understand one of the most important functions of civil lawsuits -- to deter further wrongdoing. The case settled for $2,000 to $2,500.

And here's the capper, the concluding example which makes you wonder whether you should laugh or cry:

In 1975, Indiana lobbyist Frank Cornelius, whose clients included the Insurance Institute of Indiana, helped secure passage of a $500,000 cap on medical malpractice awards and elimination of all damages for pain and suffering in Indiana. As he wrote in the New York Times on October 7, 1994, he now "rue[s] that accomplishment." Beginning in 1989, Frank Cornelius experienced a series of medical catastrophes that resulted in his wheelchair confinement, respirator-assisted breathing and constant physical pain.

When he turned to the Indiana courts to provide a remedy, to compensate him for his massive injuries and hold the negligent health care providers accountable, the law was no longer there for him. The Indiana legislature had taken his rights away. Though his medical expenses and lost wages amounted to over $5 million, his claims against both the hospital and physical therapist at fault settled for a mere $500,000 -- the limit on damages for a single incident of malpractice.

Boy, there's some serious irony for you. And try as I might, I can't work up a lot of sympathy for Cornelius. All right, truth be told, I can't work up any sympathy for him at all. Fuck him. He clearly didn't give a shit about potential suffering until it came back to bite him in the ass. I guess you really do have to be careful what you ask for.

1 comment:

dAVE said...

As a Yank of matrilineal Canadian descent, thank you for your coverage of our sorry-ass country down here. This particular post had me in my usual outrage at Republican hypocrisy, but the last fellow brought a smile to my face.
It's quite a nice morality tale. Now, if only the rest of the fuckers could befall a similar fate.