Posted by Bill Sandweg on 25 July 2017.
Whether you were injured in a car accident or were the victim of medical malpractice, whether you live in Bangor, Maine or Phoenix, Arizona, the deck has been stacked against you. Big business and its allies in the insurance industry have spent years convincing the American people that there are too many lawsuits and that greedy plaintiffs are harming America. As a result, juries have become skeptical and conservative. For example, every month a jury in Maricopa County sends home with nothing someone who was rear ended on the freeway and has about $5,000 in medical bills. The jury does this even though the other driver admits that he or she was careless in rear ending the victim. The jury sends this poor person home with nothing because they buy the argument of the insurance company attorney that the impact was not that hard and that the victim is trying to strike it rich. Congratulations to big business. You win.
The attack by big business has proceeded on two fronts. On the one hand, they have persuaded jurors that people who sue are playing lawsuit lottery and do not deserve to win. On the other hand, they have helped to elect Republicans who champion “tort reform” and who pass laws at the state level to make it more difficult to win when you have been injured and which often limit what you can win when you have been injured.
So, how successful has big business been? Today’s Wall Street Journal calls it a “surprise” when it reports in a front page story that the number of personal injury suit filings have declined by 80% since 1993. The story points out the disparity between public perception of a court system gone wild with personal injury suits and the reality of a dramatic decline in the number of suits filed. This, of course, has always been the goal of the push by big business: convince the public and the politicians of a crisis which does not and never has existed and demand changes. They are still at it. Republicans in the House of Representatives recently passed a bill severely limiting the rights of persons injured by medical malpractice with the promise of hundreds of billions of dollars in savings. The figures in the Wall Street Journal make clear these savings are a mirage as the number of malpractice suits has already dwindled to only a few. Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois found a 57% decline in the number of paid malpractice claims between 1992 and 2012 and a similar drop in the number of cases filed. The people who were hurt worst by this drop? It was those who had smaller cases and who could not afford to prosecute their claim.
This, of course, is a victory big business and the insurance industry cannot acknowledge. To the contrary, they must continue to push the narrative that there is a crisis of frivolous lawsuits which threatens to overwhelm the courts and destroy our way of life. Juries must continue to be exhorted to keep awards down. Politicians must continue to be encouraged with contributions and urged to further protect society from frivolous claims. It is working so why not keep it up?
People who are injured today are in the wrong place at the wrong time. They just have to take their medicine and realize they are not going to receive justice. The rest of us need to push back against the big business narrative and do what we can to protect our rights.