Tort Reform – The Fox In The Hen House

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The word “tort” means wrong. One would think that tort reform would represent an effort to reduce wrongs. In fact, tort reform, represents a collective effort by wrongdoers and those responsible for paying victims for the wrongs done them, to limit the compensation a victim is able to recover.

Since lawyers have been the butt of jokes for years it has not been difficult for medical societies, hospitals, insurance companies and big business in general to urge the public to believe that health care costs and the availability of health care has been adversely impacted by lawyers seeking compensation for completely innocent victims of medical negligence. In fact the passage of extremely unfair and restrictive legislative measures in many states including Pennsylvania, have made it very difficult for patients whose lives have been ruined by medical carelessness to obtain fair compensation or even the ability to pay for the medical expenses they are required to incur by reason of the negligence of others.

The Congress is now considering House Bill 5 which represents a collection of measures which, if passed, would throughout the U.S. affect the ability of those injured by the carelessness of others to seek justice.

In Pennsylvania, the current villain is proposed State Senate bill 2. Many years ago, in 1974, for the first time in Pennsylvania legislation was passed which required physicians and hospitals to have at the least $1 million in insurance coverage. This was accomplished by requiring physician’s to obtain $500,000 in private insurance coverage. A state fund was then set up to provide each Health Care provider with an additional $500,000 worth of insurance coverage. The required coverage was to increase but today the coverage remains the same as that which was required in 1974 in spite of the enormous inflation in health care costs.

Proposed State Senate bill 2 is designed to gravely alter the common law doctrine of joint and several liability. When the actions of more than one wrongdoer combined to cause harm, under existing law an innocent victim is not restricted as to which wrongdoer can be made to pay. A lack of resources by one wrongdoer does not prevent the wrongdoer with greater assets or resources from being made to pay that sum needed and found by a jury to represent just compensation. Those supporting Proposed State Senate bill 2 call it the “Fair Share” Bill. But what is fair about the victim of wrongdoing not being allowed to recover the sums due them from those who can afford to pay.

Consider this example: A Budweiser truck is so busy trying to pass Joe the Plumber’s panel truck that neither driver notices the approaching construction and two to one lane change in time to avoid running through and killing five members of the construction crew. Under existing law the plumber’s minimum insurance is no impediment to the surviving families recovering needed compensation from Budweiser. Under Senate bill 2, if Budweiser is found to be 50% responsible they are not required to pay the otherwise unpaid share of the plumber. Is the share of the verdict which remains unpaid a fair share for the family’s of the dead instruction crew?

The Foxes in our State Legislature claim they are guarding our rights. The Fox is in the hen house and is about to have the public’s rights for dinner.

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