Saturday, March 6, 2010

Trial Lawyers

A lot of my conservative friends disagree with me when it comes to trial lawyers and tort reform.

I actually (gasp) agree with some liberals when it comes to tort law. Many in the Republican party have called for restricting lawsuits against doctors because they say that it drives healthcare costs up and all of these lawsuits are without merit. They are partially right but mostly wrong.

Yes, there are junk lawsuits and this is disgusting. There should be some sensible regulations put in place to cut down on these types of lawsuits. But eliminating tort law, like many Republicans have proposed, is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. For example, take Texas, a state which has passed tough tort reform legislation. Yes, there are less lawsuits and therefore fewer costs are passed on to doctors. But things have gotten so crazy that there was a famous case where a doctor in a case of blantant malpractice, cut off the wrong leg, and the patient was unable to sue! This is absolute madness. Yes, if the doctor looked at you the wrong way, you shouldn't be able to sue. But a healthy leg was cut off. This is going to impact the person for the rest of their life, they sure as hell should be able to sue over this. But in Texas they aren't able to.

Or take the case of a California doctor, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, based out of the Bay Area. For years he was considered one of the top practitioners in his field. His speciality was children who had been abused and he was extremely well thought of. But he was hiding an extremely dark secret. He was molesting some of the children who came to him for treatment. Instead of treating them for their abuse, he was abusing them further and then threatening them in order to ensure there silence. This went on for 20 years. Each patient thinking he was the only one. Each patient terrified to speak out. Anyway, some years ago, the whole house of cards came crashing down around this doctor and he was exposed for what he is, a serial child molester and arrested. Dozens of former patients came forward and testified against him. Everyone knows that an experience like this can scar a person for life. It is more than fair for these former patients, these victims of a doctor who took advantage of his position, to be able to sue.

Or let's go into another example. A large pharmceutical company produced a drug which, according to their own studies, was dangerous for pregnant women. The drug, when taken during pregnancy, could cause birth defects in children. Anyway, the drug company submitted this drug to the FDA and knowingly witheld this study. One day, a young mother is prescribed this drug and assured by her doctor that it is safe to take during pregnancy, since all of the information he has shows no problems. She takes this drug and her child is born with major birth defects. She will NEVER live a normal life as her heart wasn't formed properly as a result of the mother taking the drug. This heart condition almost always results in death in the first few years of life. And the life the baby lives is very uncomfortable, with constant visits and stays in hospitals. Healthcare costs for this child could easily reach millions of dollars throughout her short life. Obviously, this mother should be able to sue. In fact she did sue the company, GlaxoSmithKline, won a settlement and also forced them to reveal the study and turn it over to the FDA. The FDA promptly placed a warning on the label of the drug to warn other pregnant women of the dangers of the drug. But none of this would have happened without a lawsuit.

Obviously, the kinds of things I have described above don't happen every day. But when they do happen, the only way to resolve them is to sue. I don't advocate suits every day, but sometimes lawsuits need to be filled in order to correct an injustice. And simply banning lawsuits isn't the solution. The FDA doesn't always have all the information. The FDA isn't always right. Again, sometimes the only way to get to the bottom of things, the only way in order to get justice is to sue someone.

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