Why? Because, unfortunately, part of the job of being a tort lawyer who represents patients and other negligence victims is staying on top of issues that affect current and future clients. I have monitored tort “reform” legislation since 1984. I have testified on our Capitol Hill numerous times since 1985; the first time concerned a bill that severely limited the liability of servers of alcoholic beverages (it passed, we lost).
The fact of the matter is that plaintiff’s lawyers are one of the few voices for malpractice victims. AARP is there. Labor is often there. But there is no “Future Wrongful Death Victims of America Association.” There is no “Prospective Med Mal Victims PAC.” No one ever thinks that they will be a victim of a negligent doctor, a careless truck driver, or a defective product, and therefore even the consumers who care about the issue are often unwilling to speak out about it – they have too many other things going on in their lives that demand attention today.
Therefore, it falls upon lawyers to advocate for victims, not just in the courtroom, but in the halls of the legislature. We have to run for the legislature (only 17 lawyers out of 132 legislators in Tennessee!) or, if we cannot, give monetary support to those who will. We have to find non-lawyers to serve as candidates, help them win, and help them understand that the same people who had the ability to cast the votes that put them into office are the people who serve as jurors. We have to help them understand that when a jury makes an error there is a judge there who can correct the error, and that if that judge makes an error we have an appellate court system to correct it. In summary, we have a system of checks and balances that, all things considered, works pretty dang well.
So, that’s why I have been blogging on this issue so much recently. The threat of adverse legislation on tort law lives on in Tennessee until next Tuesday, when the Civil Practice Subcommitte has its last hearing day. On the federal level, it will last as long as President Bush and Majority Leader Frist want it to last. Did you know that last year the US Senate spent more time debating liability reform than Iraq?