TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Southwestern Law School

Monday, February 6, 2006

Torts and the SOTU

[Some new entries below; also check out the comments.]

I'll try to update this throughout the day as I come across reactions to the State of the Union speech that are tort-related.  In case you missed it, the main (only?) reference in the speech was this:

And because lawsuits are driving many good doctors out of practice – leaving women in nearly 1,500 American counties without a single OB-GYN – I ask the Congress to pass medical liability reform this year.

Some (excerpted) reactions from around and about:

  • Day on Torts: "How can anyone with a lick of sense suggest that OB-GYNs do not practice in rural American because of medical negligence lawsuits? Doctors practice medicine where there are patients and where there are hospitals."
  • Federal Disability Claims Blog: "How much of the President’s claim [about problems of litigation] is supported in fact? [paragraph] Not much according to none other than the very people at the heart of the matter: the Judges in the Courts themselves."  [Note: Written before the SOTU, so not entirely on the mark about what Bush in fact said.]
  • SOTU Drinking Game (Elfstar): Mentioning malpractice reform means take one drink.
  • Talking Points Memo Cafe: "The effects of malpractice lawsuits on our medical system are way overblown.  Research shows that less than one half of one percent of medical spending goes toward defending lawsuits, paying premiums, and giving malpractice awards.  Tort reform can't control rising health costs. [paragraph] In terms of 1,500 U.S. counties without ob-gyns, that has to do with population distribution.  16.1% of counties have more than 100,000 inhabitants, while 83.9% of counties had less than 100,000 inhabitants.  There aren't enough doctors in rural practice, but that has nothing to do with malpractice, and tort reform won't solve that problem."  (Post by Kate Steadman)
  •   ATLA Press Release: "In his State of the Union address tonight, President George W. Bush continued his habit of attacking the civil justice system to provide yet another giveaway to his corporate contributors. Specifically, Bush called for legislation that would do nothing to provide quality health care to the 45 million Americans who do not have access or lower health care costs but would pad the profits of his contributors in the insurance industry."
  • NAM has provided the White House talking points [PDF]: "The President Calls On Congress To Make The Medical Liability System Fairer And More Predictable While Reducing Wasteful Costs.  Frivolous lawsuits and excessive jury awards limit access to health care by driving health care providers out of many communities and increase costs by forcing doctors to practice defensive medicine.  Because lawsuits are driving many good doctors out of practice, women in nearly 1,500 American counties are left without a single OB-GYN.   Medical liability reforms would secure an injured patient's ability to get quicker compensation for economic losses, while reducing frivolous lawsuits against doctors that raise the cost of health care for all.  [Ed. Note: presumably the lawsuits raise the costs, not the doctors.]  The President has proposed proven, common-sense reforms that reserve punitive damages for egregious cases where they are justified, limit non-economic damages to reasonable amounts, ensure that old cases cannot be brought to court years after an event, and provide that defendants pay judgments in proportion to their fault."
  • [New] The Center for Justice & Democracy: "The medical malpractice legislation that Bush will advocate during the 2006 State of the Union would take away legal protections that have saved thousands of lives.  These laws have protected us from drugs and medical devices like Vioxx, the Dalkon Shield and Copper-7 IUDs, an antibiotic that caused cancer, a pregnancy test that led to false-positives for cancer, and many others.  [paragraph]  The Administration’s plan will result in Americans dying so that the drug companies can make even more money.  Moreover, arguing that limiting the legal rights of patients injured by medical malpractice will lower health care costs is a blatant misrepresentation of facts."  This press release also cites on the costs of the current system (this search will get you all articles mentioning "malpractice").

Most of these include substantially more than what I've quoted above.  Send a note if you know a good one.  Folks like the Manufacturers Blog have been focusing on other aspects of the speech.

[Updated and moved to the top on Monday morning -- probably the last update of this post.]

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John Day's comment seems nonsensical because in most rural and suburban areas there are plenty of gynecologists but very few who practice obstetrics. There must be a reason for this. Either some of the gynecologists don't want the litigation hassle and the insurance cost associated with an OB practice or they don't find bringing children into the world a worthwhile occupation. Somehow I think that it is probably the former rather than the latter.

Posted by: P. K. Scott | Feb 1, 2006 9:56:07 AM

The Prez should have stuck to "America is addicted to oil" least he was right on that one ...even if ironic given where he comes from....


Posted by: Dwayne Clak | Feb 1, 2006 3:09:44 PM

P.K. - where is the data that supports your argument? Please share it. And when you do so please make sure that it supports the causal connection between the lack of OBs in a particular area and the cost of malpractice insurance.

No anecdotes, please. This issue is too important to be left to sound bites from politicians, insurance executives or frustrated doctors hoping to limit the rights of malpractice victims or punish trial lawyers.

So, share your data and let the debate begin.

Posted by: John Day | Feb 6, 2006 3:58:56 AM

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