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Wayne Parsons
Wayne Parsons
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Tort Reform Myth – The Number of Lawsuits is Skyrocketing!

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Not true! Not True! Not True!

How many times have you read that "the number of lawsuits is skyrocketing" in the Honolulu newspapers? How many times have you heard a TV news reporter say this? The recent article by Paula Arcena in the Hawaii Reporter makes me wonder what journalists do before they write a story. She seems to have taken on the cause of Big Island legislator Josh Green, a point man for tort reformers. He is a doctor. Did Ms. Arcena do any homework before writing her story? How many times have you heard Calvin Say support the myth that the number of lawsuits is skyrocketing as he supports Governor Lingle and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on tort reform?

Its not true.

Every statistic from every source confirms this as a lie. A fabrication. Does that fact – that our conventional news media, newspapers and major television news shows will put out easily verified lies?

And what about our legislators in Hawaii? I’ll accept the fact that Governor Lingle and the true Republicans in the legislature support tort reform. They know that the consumer groups like the Consumer Lawyers of Hawaii, Public Citizen and the Center for Justice & Democracy are funded by people who generally support the people and not the big corporations. So true conservatives and the traditional Republican party oppose those who want access to justice for all people, not just for the big corporations. It is a political contribution issue to them. I understand that. But I am flabbergasted by the Democrats like Calvin Say and Jon Riki Karamatsu who have thrown Hawaii voters under the bus on tort reform.

Representative Jon Riki Karamatsu, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, believes that what was passed out of committee yesterday was “a delicate compromise between several parties on different ends of the spectrum.”

“We worked very hard on this compromised approach and believe that the measure we are moving out for the Senate to consider will not only keep the discussion alive, but also has an excellent chance of making some very meaningful reforms in the area of doctor recruitment and retention,” he said.

Tort reform has been a major and controversial issue at the legislature for several years. In past years, tort reform measures have not been able to amass enough votes to get through the Judiciary Committee.

Say and Karamatsu – Democrats in name only – along with Governor Lingle and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have advanced the Big Lie about tort reform. Look at the facts that they don’t tell you and let me know what you think.

According to the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, the number of federal tort (personal injury) cases resolved in U.S. District Courts fell by 79% between 1985 and 2003. In 1985, 3,600 tort trials were decided by a judge or jury in U.S. District Courts. By 2003, that number had dropped to less than 800. "Federal Tort Trials and Verdicts, 2002-03”, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 8/17/05

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h85j1vNxd8A

Additionally, the most recent statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show the number of tort trials at the state level has decreased.

These statistics were compiled as part of the Bureau’s survey of state civil justice systems in the nation’s largest 75 counties. Among these counties, the number of tort trials decreased 32% between 1992 and 2001. "Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001”, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 4/04.

The real facts are so far from the rhetoric of the tort reform conspirators that it is hard to believe that medical doctors would put their names and reputations out on a limb:

Surprisingly, the facts are clear. As a representative example, in Ohio, the 2000 United States Census placed the population of the State at 11,353,140. The official tabulation of the Ohio Supreme Court showed that there were only nine product liability lawsuits that went to trial in Ohio Courts in 2004. Since 1998 in Ohio there have only been five jury verdicts in product liability cases. The verdicts were: $0, $0, $0, $100,000.00, and $4,100,306.18.

Statistics from the Bush Administration show the number of Federal personal injury trials was down in 2005 nearly 80% since 1985. In 2004, the Bush Justice Department reported the number of personal injury cases filed in U.S. District Courts fell by 79% between 1985 and 2003. In 1985, 3,600 personal injury trials were decided by a judge or jury in U.S. District Courts. By 2003, that number had dropped to less than 800 as reported in the "Federal Tort Trials and Verdicts, 2002-2003, Bureau of Justice Statistics, August 17, 2005".

As for State Courts, the decrease in trials was similar noting a 31.8% drop between 1992 and 2001 as cited in "Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 4/04".

With respect to medical malpractice claims, contrary to the propaganda espoused by the Chamber of Commerce, personal injury lawyers are not clogging the Courts with multi-million dollar lawsuits that threaten families access to life saving medical care. Payouts in medical malpractice claims dropped over the last several years. According to the 2005 study by "Public Citizen", malpractice payouts have remained flat for more than a decade and have actually dropped over the last fifteen years as noted in "Medical Malpractice Payout Trends 1991-2004: Evidence Shows Lawsuits Haven’t Caused Doctor’s Insurance Woes, Public Citizen, May 2005". The study also revealed the number of malpractice payments paid on behalf of doctors fell 13.6% between 2001 and 2004. Adjusted for inflation, malpractice payments on average showed an annual increase of only .8% between 1991 and 2004. Adjusted for inflation, the median payout from judgments grew from 125,000 in 1991 to 146,000 in 2004, at only a 1.2% average annual increase. The percentage of payments of over $1,000,000.00 dropped from 2.25% in 1991 to just 1% in 2004. Adjusted for inflation, this represents a 56% drop.

The American Medical Association (AMA) own statistics show the number of doctors in the United States is actually increasing, not decreasing due to malpractice lawsuits or verdicts. According to data from the AMA, the number of physicians in the United States is up more than 40% since 1990, from 615,421 to 884,974 in 2004 as reported in "Physicians Characteristics and Distribution in the U.S., American Medical Association, 2006 Edition", page 312. Over the same time period the total U.S. population increased by only 18% from 248.7 million in 1990 to an estimated 293.9 million in 2004 as noted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The number of emergency room doctors has nearly doubled from 14,243 in 1990 to 27,864 in 2004 also noted in the "Physician Characteristics and Distribution" AMA article of 2006, page 312. The study went on to note the number of neurosurgeons and OB/GYN’s has also increased in the United States from 20 to 25%.

Runaway Verdicts or Runaway Insurance Profits by Scott Smith

You may also be interested in this article on the history of the tort reform conspiracy:

The History Of Tort Reform – A Story of Corporate Greed And A Conspiracy Against Justice For The People

Do Hawaii voters want to up the right to a full recovery for injuries due to a careless medical doctor? Particularly when no facts justify the sacrifice? Tell me what you think?