A lot of keystrokes have been devoted to the discussion about tort reform, particularly as it applies to medical malpractice. Fellow trial attorney, Mary Alice McClarty, recently wrote an excellent piece about how tort reform (using her home state of Texas as an example) hasn’t really resulted in protecting lives and reducing malpractice. As many trial attorneys do, I pay particular attention to news articles and opinion pieces that relate to my profession, so I was delighted to see this published on CNN as opposed to in a legal journal only read by other attorneys.
I am going to assume that everyone reading this is familiar with the comments section that generally follows any internet article written about virtually anything from the Kardashians to the terrorist attack in Libya. Even though I know most of the commenters are “trolling,” I simply can’t help but read through them. In reading through the comments to Mary Alice’s article, two things struck me. First, I couldn’t help but notice how few people commented. I know that the number of comments is not an accurate measure of the public interest in a certain topic, but I took that as an indication that many people simply aren’t interested in the specifics of tort reform. Secondly, I noticed that of those that did comment, most people seemed to blame the lawyers for the system that we have, virtually ignoring the points that Mary Alice made.
Tort reform is an abstract topic to those outside of the medical or legal system. Unfortunately, public opinion seems to have been defined by conventional wisdoms rather than statistics. Most people seem to have a negative view of medical malpractice suits until someone they love is injured and is seeking recourse. Most people don’t understand how expensive it is just to try a malpractice case, even when the facts are overwhelmingly in support of negligence, or how few lawsuits are actually successful when taken to court. One way to turn public opinion around is for lawyers like Mary Alice McClarty to continue to write about the subject, and to talk to anyone who will listen. It is disappointing that the audience is small at this point, but the more information that is published, the more chances we have to grow the audience. The other way to positively change public opinion is to have non-lawyers, perhaps those who have been the victims of malpractice, explain how tort reform has prevent them from a fair recovery. Though we may be some of the most informed on the unintended negative effects of tort reform, we are often viewed as too biased to be credible.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, Eastern Shore Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.
Great article Kevin. Maybe we can get the public talking about justice if we keep telling the stories of injustice that happen every day and we see in our offices. A new website "Taking Justice Back" is a great first step in that process. They are telling the stories of real people and getting the voices of the public out into the public debate. I wonder how many people who read this have been the victim of what you and Mary Alice describe? We need their voices.
Wayne, thanks for responding. I would love to see more people tell their stories. So many people take the position that they would "never" sue a doctor, and feel those that do are greedy and responsible for ruining our healthcare system. I can't even count how many people have told me that they never thought they'd contact a personal injury attorney, but yet are hoping that I will take on their case.
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