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Rick Shapiro
Rick Shapiro
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Tennessee (TN) Governor Refuses to Change Tort Law that Harms Victim’s Rights

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The civil freedom and rights we enjoy in this country are unparalleled, but those rights and freedoms are subject to change as part of our democratic process if we do not stand up for what we believe in. This is especially true when legislators tinker with the trial-by-jury system.

As a Virginia personal injury attorney, I’m aware of the tort reform battle that many in the general public might not understand, know or care about. But you should care about it. Why? One day you may be the victim of a personal injury. If an injury is caused by medical malpractice from a doctor or you suffer a disabling injury caused by a product or business practice and it is debilitating enough, you may not be able to pay for your medical and living expenses—this is the case if TN Republican Gov. Bill Haslam gets his way.

That hardly seems fair does it?

Well, it’s not. But there is a powerful force of lobbyists that work for insurance companies that don’t care. Their bottom line is money, and they don’t care if a doctor cuts off the wrong limb — and that has happened. The Tennessee governor’s new law now imposes a $750,000 cap on payouts no matter how negligent the party is.

So why impose a cap? Why not let a judge and jury decide what is the correct amount on a case per case basis? Those in favor of tort reform would have you believe that the number of lawsuits is skyrocketing and that’s why we need arbitrary ceilings or caps on injury and wrongful death claims. But that is a myth and a misguided attempt to control health care costs in Tennessee, North Carolina — which also enacted some changes to civil case damages — and other states. According to testimony in Congress the number of medical malpractice claims hasn’t spiked. On the contrary, claims dropped 15 percent between 1999 and 2008.

It seems to me that those insurance companies must be so busy lobbying congress that they failed to notice that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners reported in 2009 that medical negligence payouts dropped 45 percent since 2000. According to the insurance industry’s own data, inflation-adjusted per-doctor claims have been dropping since 2002, from almost $8,700 that year to $4,900 in 2008.

Personal injury attorneys work for the people. We are on the front lines preserving consumer rights and work with the victim’s and their families who are truly suffering. We care about what happens to our clients in the future. That is why so many personal injury lawyers are voicing strong opinions about this topic, as we realize how important it is even if the public we are trying to protect may not be thinking about these issues because many folks cannot imagine being a victim whose life has been ruined by a careless act.


About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.