You Can Support Tort Reform and Still Sue People

One of the flimsier arguments from the trial lawyer crowd is that supporters of tort reform are hypocrites if they ever file a lawsuit of their own. Anthony Tarricone, president of the American Association for Justice — the trial lawyer lobby — made the claim after states challenged the constitutionality of the federal health care legislation, “Tort Reform Hypocrites: “Do As I Say, Not As I Sue.”

Tarricone is trying a “gotcha moment,” but the argument falls flat. Supporters of medical liability reform believe that frivolous lawsuits and exorbitant punitive damages increase costs for health care by causing doctors to practice expensive defensive medicine.

And in fact, via Kaiser Health News, “Survey Of Doctors Suggests Widespread ‘Defensive Medicine’“:

HealthDay/Bloomberg Businessweek reports that a new survey published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that 91 percent of 2,416 doctors believe their colleagues practice defensive medicine by giving patients more tests and treatments as a means of protecting themselves from lawsuits. “In addition, 90.7 percent of the respondents believe better protection against unwarranted malpractice suits is necessary to reduce the number of unnecessary medical tests” (Preidt, 6/28). 

Medical liability reformers argue for changing laws to discourage excessive litigation and unnecessary costs, reducing the need for doctors to practice defensive medicine. Texas is a proven success story.

How does making these sound policy arguments deprive someone of the ability to sue without being called a hypocrite? If someone supports capping punitive damages, he is forever prevented from arguing constitutional issues?

The latest example of this nonsense comes from The Washington Post’sRough Sketch” column, a leading practitioner of gotcha-smirk journalism.:

Conservatives hate lawsuits and the trial lawyers who file them — until, that is, they want to sue somebody.

In Florida, two donors to Gov. Charlie Crist’s Senate campaign have sued Crist to get their money back now that Crist has quit the Republican Party and is running as an independent. Tort reform — and conservative demands for the end of frivolous lawsuits — can wait until these aggrieved parties get back the $5,300 combined that they gave Crist.

Crist can’t be surprised that his former supporters are angry enough to sue. His former mouthpiece is now using her mouth against him. Amanda Henneberg, Crist’s former campaign spokeswoman, now has a job with the Republican National Committee, and her duties include bashing Crist. Henneberg, who once sang the praises of Crist, accuses Crist of “singing the praises of the Obama administration.”

That is some stupid snark. Two partisan activists give money to a candidate who then reneges on the principles and political party on which he based his campaign solicitations. We don’t know anything more about the suit than what we read here, and maybe it is bogus — although we don’t see any demand for $100 million in punitive damages.

But the suit is NOT a repudiation of the principles of tort reform. You can support medical liability reform and still use the courts to address a legal grievance — say, a contract dispute — without being a hypocrite. The AAJ’s logic would have the public believe that tort reformers can’t challenge a traffic ticket.

Both the AAJ and the Post’s journalists know this, probably. They just want to say, “Nyah, nyah, nyah.”

Note: We edited this post at 2:55 p.m. so it would read a little better and to correct the spelling of “nyah.”

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