Articles Posted in Tort Reform

I’ve remarked more than once to my friends and colleagues that, watching just a few of the 20-plus Republican Party primary debates these past few months, there were times that I honestly didn’t know if I was watching a skit from Saturday Night Live. (I mean that.) So pathetically laughable, shallow, and completely filled with hypocrisy were they, that a local dog catcher’s race would see more highbrow performance. For any one of these pathetic exercises in mindless blathering and needless media coverage, it wouldn’t be hard to pick out losers (and by “losers” I don’t mean who won or lost any of these alleged “debates.”)

But for the title of all-time hypocrite, the current award has to go to the nutcase who’s risen to the current top-tier challenge to Mitt Romney. Yes, that would be former Senator Rick Santorum, Republican from Pennsylvania. Now, many of you may know Mr. Santorum (or Mr. “Sanitarium”, as I prefer,) as the far-right evangelical conservative, who likes to trot around the country preaching that “Satan is attacking the United States” (yes, that’s a direct quote. Click here if you don’t believe me.) No less a cerebral giant than Sarah Palin rushed to Santorum’s defense, blaming the “lame-stream media” for getting “all wee-weed up.” Imagine the deep thinking process involved in that profound comment. Now, that’s intelligence on display.

While I thoroughly understand that Mr. Santorum’s delusions – I mean, opinions – can result when anyone misplaces his medication, his tirades don’t stop with speeches about the Prince of Darkness. No, they go to former Presidents, too. Even a President who was murdered in office.

Too often within the escalating debate over “tort reform“, the facts take a distant back seat to ever more shrill demagoguery.

It seems that all we ever hear from proponents of tort reform, and their Republican lapdogs in Congress and in State Houses across the country, are noxiously recycled claims that liability insurance premiums are supposedly caused by “frivolous lawsuits, run amok.” These liability insurer-funded interests claim that if we just enact tort reform (translation: If we decimate our civil justice system,) all kinds of liability premiums, from auto insurance to homeowners insurance to medical malpractice insurance, would drop and stay down. Think again, America: It’s not so. And it rarely, if ever, has been. These claims are the worst form of legislative bait-and-switch perpetrated on the American public. And the driving forces behind tort “reform” – the liability insurance industry – knows it.

Though I have to hand it to them when it comes to campaign strategy planning, because they also know something else: They know that they can’t be the ones to most openly make these arguments, or they’ll appear too self-interested. After all, they’re the ones who stand to reap millions in premium that they’ll never pay out to injury victims, if the doors to the courthouse are forever locked. The best strategic tactic in this case? Get other groups to “front” these claims. The best groups to get to do this? Their customers, who are being gouged by the high liability premiums their carriers charge them. Who are those customers? Doctors, business owners, commercial property owners, private property owners, homeowners, and anyone who owns a car. Anyone who buys liability insurance of almost any kind. All these groups are angry, motivated forces who can be (quite literally) conned into believing that the reason their premiums are so high, is a “lawsuit crisis.” Not a bad strategy, from a public affairs campaign standpoint. Displaced anger is precisely what’s fueling the Tea Party movement, and it works. Just ask any master of misinformation (Karl Rove comes to mind.)

In my previous posts on this multi-part subject of tort reform, I discussed what tort reform is, who is behind it, and what it would do to the average Massachusetts citizen, in taking away your legal right to recover for injuries you’ve suffered because of someone else’s negligence.

Now I’ll address the twisted story of what the insurance industry uses as ‘Exhibit A’ when they argue for tort reform: The famous “McDonald’s Coffee Case”. You’ll see that what this case is really “Exhibit A” for, is not telling the full story or reporting all the facts, which results in complete disinformation. (Otherwise known as “spin.”)

This is the case of Liebeck vs. McDonald’s Corp. Stella Leibeck was a 79 year-old grandmother in New Mexico, who suffered third degree burns over her legs and lower abdomen after she purchased coffee at a McDonald’s drive-through, back in 1992. Liebeck sued McDonald’s for producing coffee that was so hot it couldn’t be handled safely, never mind actually consumed safely. This type of case is known as a Product Liability suit. A jury awarded her $160,000 in damages, which reflected their determination that Ms. Liebeck was 20 per cent at fault for the accident (she spilled the coffee on herself.)