LAWSUITS: FANTASY V. REALITY
I’m sure everyone has heard of “frivolous lawsuits” and how they are to blame for rising insurance costs, driving doctors away, and the decline of Western Civilization as we know it today. The truth of the matter is certain politicians have created the fear that there are “runaway juries” which will destroy America unless there is so-called “tort reform”! Why do they want to do this? Easy. Big Insurance and Big Business lined the pockets of these politicians to push their agendas. Big Insurance and Big Businesses do not want to be held accountable for their actions. They want to be protected. Below we have listed some of the popular “Myths” in the justice systems along with the actual “Facts”. You read and decide for yourselves
1. MYTH: Frivolous lawsuits are flooding our legal system.
FACT: Frivolous lawsuits do not exist as represented by tort reformers.
A May 2006 study conducted by Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women”s Hospital shows that 97 percent of medical malpractice claims are meritorious . Eighty percent of those claims involved physical injury, which killed or permanently disabled the victim. Sadly, only 56 of these claimants received compensation for their losses.
FACT: The number of lawsuits has significantly decreased in recent years.
Between 2002 and 2003, the number of tort cases filed on the federal level decreased by 28 percent, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. In 2005, the Justice Department reported that the number of federal cases has decreased by 79 percent since 1985.
Between 1992 and 2001, the number of civil trials filed in state courts decreased by 47 percent, according to the Department of Justice. The number of tort cases specifically, decreased by 31.8 percent during that same time.
FACT: Businesses, not consumers, are far more likely to file frivolous lawsuits.
Businesses and their attorneys are far more likely to file frivolous claims than the average American. In a recent study, 69 of the 100 most recent sanctions due to cases of frivolous lawsuits were against businesses and their attorneys. US businesses file four times as many lawsuits than private citizens.
2. MYTH: Plaintiffs are being awarded outrageous and unwarranted sums of money for their losses.
FACT: The amount of compensation awarded in personal injury cases is in decline.
The amount of compensation awarded to victims, who have been seriously injured through no fault of their own, has drastically decreased over the past few years, according to the Department of Justice. Between 1992 and 2001 the average personal injury award decreased by 56.3 percent.
FACT: The payout in medical malpractice cases has decreased over the last four years.
A 2005 Public Citizen study revealed that medical malpractice payments to victims fell nearly 14 percent between 2001 and 2004. In 2001, juries voted against injured victims in three of four medical malpractice trials, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).
3. MYTH: Capping damages lowers medical malpractice insurance premiums for doctors.
FACT: Tort reform caps result in savings for insurance companies NOT doctors.
Capping damages does NOT translate into savings for doctors who continue to pay exorbitant medical malpractice insurance premiums. According to an independent research organization, “most insurers continued to increase [doctor”s] premiums at a rapid pace, regardless of caps” or reductions in plaintiff”s awards (Weiss Ratings 6/3/03).
In states with tort reform caps on damages, the average insurance premiums are nearly ten percent higher than the average in states without caps (The Medical Liability Monitor, 2004). Take it from the insurance industry, “Insurers never promised that tort reform would achieve specific savings [on insurance premiums]” – the American Insurance Association.
Medical malpractice insurance costs are cyclical. Litigation does not drive the cycle.
Therefore, doing away with fair compensation for victims will NOT help an American citizen AND it will do nothing to help doctors who pay high insurance costs.
4. MYTH: The tort system places a $300 billion burden on the economy.
FACT: There is no such thing as a tort-tax.
The figure in the myth above comes from the insurance industry, which has a vested interest in propagating tort reform myths. In this so-called cost assessment, Tillinghast-Towers Perrin included insurance company costs, overhead, and the salaries of the insurance industry’s CEOs. For example, the salary of AIG’s chairman–a whopping $29 million a year–was figured into this supposed cost of the tort system. The TTP assessment didn’t include relevant data, which makes their figure more a reflection of the cost of the insurance industry rather than the cost of the tort system.
The idea of a “tort tax” dates back to 1988, when one man coined the term and quantified this so-called tax in a book called Liability. Several researchers immediately examined this man”s methods of determining this tax. They found that he had made it up. “The $300 billion figure has no discernable connection to reality,” observed The Economist. The Congressional Budget Office has repudiated the so-called tort tax.
5. MYTH: Medical malpractice claims run up the cost of healthcare.
FACT: Medical malpractice claims have a negligible effect on US health costs.
According to the Congressional Budget Office in January 2004, medical malpractice costs constituted only two percent of the total cost of healthcare in the United States. Other figures from Public Citizen show that malpractice costs represent only 0.62 percent of the nation’s expenditures for health care.
In 2003, the top HMOs in the United States reported doubling their profits, according to the Jacksonville Business Journal.
6. MTYH: Lawsuits are filed at the slightest provocation.
FACT: Many people who are seriously injured never file a claim.
Of the hundreds of thousands of people who are harmed by medical malpractice annually, only one in eight ever file a claim, according to a Harvard Study. Of the thousands of people injured by consumer products each year, only ten percent file a claim to seek compensation for their losses and suffering, according to a study by the Rand Institute for Civil Defense.
7. MYTH: Doctors are forced to practice “defensive medicine” for fear of medical malpractice lawsuits.
FACT: No evidence indicates that doctors practice “defensive medicine” as a response to lawsuit threats.
Defensive medicine, or extra medical tests given to avoid lawsuits, is a concept developed by a member of the Bush Administration. Every independent researcher who has tried to replicate this man’s findings has been unable to do so, indicating that his findings were entirely fabricated (Public Citizen).
8. MYTH: Lawsuits threaten to drive doctors out of practice and bankrupt small businesses and factories.
FACT: Most lawsuits are not even filed against doctors or companies.
Most lawsuits involve complaints by one private citizen against another. Only 39 percent of tort lawsuits involve an individual filing a claim against a business (The Department of Justice). A lawsuit cannot destroy a business unless that business generates a profit based on fraudulent or unsafe practices (Public Citizen).
FACT: The number of lawsuits against doctors is decreasing while the number of practicing physicians is increasing. Evidence shows that the number of lawsuits filed against doctors has declined in recent years, while the number of practicing physicians has increased. According to the American Medical Association, the number of US doctors has increased by 40 percent since 1990. Additionally, since 1990, the number of ER doctors has doubled, the number of neurosurgeons has increased by 20 percent, and the number of OB/GYN doctors has increased by 25 percent.
There is not one shred of evidence to suggest that medical malpractice claims are forcing doctors to close their doors. While some doctors have suffered due to high insurance premiums, we know these costs have nothing to do with lawsuits and are purely the product of a rapacious insurance industry.
9. MYTH: Punitive damages are awarded to often and for too much money.
FACT: Punitive damages are rarely rewarded in civil suits.
Punitive damages are only awarded in 3.3 percent of all tort trials won by the victim, according to the Department of Justice). Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant in cases of blatant or malicious wrongdoing and prevent others from committing similar acts in the future. Given the statistics, it would seem that punitive damages are very conservatively awarded to the victims of egregious acts.
• In 1995, the tobacco industry funded half the American Tort Reform Association’s budget – $5.5 million a year. The money trail of many tort reform advocacy groups is traced to big tobacco, the pharmaceutical indudstry, large corporate donors, auto manufacturers, and medical associations.
• Less than 6 percent of the nation’s doctors are responsible for over 57 percent of the payouts in medical malpractice lawsuits. (Public Citizen 4/2005)
• Of all the personal injury claims filed, only five percent are medical malpractice claims and another five percent are product liability claims. A big percentage of personal injury claims are filed by one citizen against another in a vehicle accident claim.
• Victims bear the lion’s share of medical malpractice costs-including lost lives, additional medical expenses, time out of work, pain and suffering, and more.
Fact: Chuck Mullins has been practicing law for over 17 years and has enjoyed helping Mississippians. To learn more about Chuck go to the Coxwell & Associates website.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. Anyone with a legal problem should consult a lawyer immediately.