Op-ed By Anthony Tarricone, AAJ President

Here is an op-ed from today’s Politico titled "Putting Trial Lawyers out of Business."

August was quite the month in the ongoing health care saga. Death panels. Scaring seniors. Angry mobs discovering new villains to blame for the terrible health care system we find ourselves having to fix today. 

And then we have the tried-and-tested scapegoat for all of America’s ills and woes: trial lawyers. 

Let’s face it: Trial lawyers — and all attorneys, for that matter — aren’t revered by the public at large (unless you need one). But for those who want to stick it to the trial bar, this bill is your chance. We can lower costs, help cover the uninsured and even put trial lawyers out of business. 

No, it’s not tort reform. We’re demanding solutions that actually work. And preventing medical errors in the first place — an epidemic that plagues our entire health care system — will result in less litigation, lower costs and healthier patients. 

Let’s cut the wheat from the chaff: Tort reform will do nothing to fix health care. Forty-six states have already done it, and costs have continued to skyrocket. The Congressional Budget Office and Government Accountability Office have said tort reform will save practically no money, and they found no evidence of defensive medicine. Medical malpractice suits are less than 1 percent of all civil filings — and this has declined 8 percent during the past decade. The research is definitive and absolute, and those claiming otherwise are just trying to obstruct health care reform altogether. 

More than 98,000 people die every year from preventable medical errors, according to the Institute of Medicine. That report is 10 years old, and estimates are the number has gotten significantly worse. This is the equivalent of two 737s crashing every day for a whole year. If planes were crashing like this today, would we focus on giving airlines immunity or making air travel safer? 

So this is how you really put trial lawyers out of business: Just cut down on the errors. Fewer errors mean fewer complications — or fewer people who will need legal recourse. Electronic medical records, bar-coding equipment, tagging surgical instruments and routine operating room checklists are just a few measures that can decrease errors. And there are countless more that can corral this epidemic and make patient safety a priority once again. 

In the past few weeks, some pundits or talking heads have demanded to know, “What have the trial lawyers sacrificed to get health care passed?” But this isn’t about trial lawyers. It’s about patients, hurt through no fault of their own, left with debilitating injuries or worse. This bill is about health care, not bargaining away people’s legal rights. 

But health care reform may still provide ample opportunity to put away the trial bar. We would welcome it. Fewer people who need legal recourse means injuries are more infrequent and health care is getting safer. 

But taking away people’s legal rights is the entirely wrong way to do it. That’s saying it is acceptable for 98,000 people to die every year, with thousands more injured, because of preventable medical errors. And that’s also saying it is OK to dictate what their lives are worth or whether they should have any recourse at all. Such a proposition is ridiculous. 

We welcome a health care system that has fewer injuries, safer patients and lower costs. But bargaining away people’s legal rights isn’t a suitable alternative. That isn’t a bill we can call health care or reform. 


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