Articles Posted in Tort Reform

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Last year, Johnson & Johnson made constant headlines over their talc powder, sold for over 100 years and used by millions of women to keep undergarments and their body fresh and dry. When it was revealed that Johnson & Johnson knew that their product caused cancer and engaged in a decades-long cover up, many women suffering from ovarian cancer decided to sue the company, resulting in several large verdicts.

While the Johnson and Johnson crisis has blown the lid off the lengths manufacturers will go to sell a product (even with evidence indicating danger), they are hardly the first company to engage in such deceptive practices. The American Association of Justice (AAJ) recently released a report entitled “From Accutane to Zonite: A History of Dangerous Drugs and Devices Marketed to Women,” a thorough look into the ways women have been deceived by large corporations, paying big companies with their health and even their lives. The report comes at a time when the House is peddling the Protecting Access to Care Act (also known as H.R. 1215), a bill that would give significant legal protection to companies that are sued by those injured by faulty medical devices, dangerous drugs, negligent medical care, and abuse and neglect in nursing homes.

140 Years of Deceit & Claims of Curing ‘Women’s Problems’

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Recently, tort reform became a topic of discussion in Springfield. Our attorneys believe this is an especially important topic because these lawsuits give injured victims of negligence access to the courts and allow plaintiffs to recover compensation and obtain justice for wrongdoing committed against them. When we bring lawsuits against negligent parties, we use the legal system as a vehicle of change to make our communities a safer place. When verdicts are granted in favor of the plaintiffs, not only are negligent parties held accountable, but the legal examples set by medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits deter other potential negligent parties from committing wrongs and placing innocent parties in harm’s way in the future.

Some look to deny victims access to the courts by calling for tort reform. If we reform the tort system by placing a limit on jury awards, the legal system is thereby weakened and can no longer strongly deter tortfeasors as it has in the past. When there are caps, negligent parties are aware of the maximum they can be punished, regardless of how horrendous the act. The legal system we have in place currently operates successfully in a way to not only provide retribution for victims and their families but to punish negligent parties and prevent future negligence. The Illinois legislature is once again revisiting the issue of tort reform after the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that limits on damages awarded to victims of medical negligence are unconstitutional.

A recent article by The Herald-News discusses how Illinois lawmakers recently debated whether to make changes to the state’s tort laws. Plaintiffs in medical malpractice and wrongful death cases have spoken out saying that limits should not be placed on jury awards after Illinois’s new governor, Bruce Rauner, announced tort reform was a priority, claiming that it is pro-business and a way to save employers money. What supporters of tort reform fail to consider is the well-being of those who suffer at the hands of negligent parties. According to this article, over 4,000 deaths in Illinois have been linked to preventable medical errors.
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The phrase Tort Reform refers to a movement backed by large corporations and special interest groups to make it more difficult for injured plaintiffs to reach the courtroom and to cap their damages if they do actually reach the courtroom. These groups seek to limit corporations’ liability when they act negligently. They often claim that plaintiffs file hundreds of thousands of frivolous lawsuits, costing the American taxpayer money, and clogging up the justice system.

As reported in a previous post, the Center for Justice and Democracy released a briefing book this month on tort litigation and juries that provides excellent statistics on just how aggravated the issue of tort reform is by special interest groups that seek to limit plaintiffs access to the courtroom. This briefing book helps us to understand that tort reform is nothing but an excuse to keep corporations from facing liability for their negligence.

Some of the more impactful statistics in the Center for Justice and Democracy’s book relate to the number of tort filings in the United States. For instance, while special interest groups that argue for tort reform claim that there are thousands of frivolous lawsuits filed each year, in actuality only two percent of injured Americans file lawsuits seeking compensation for their injuries. Additionally, according to data from the National Center for State Courts, tort cases represented only a measly six percent of all the civil cases of 17 states that reported this data. This number is not a fluke; it has remained under 7 percent since 2007. Therefore, any claims that tort claims are out of control and exceedingly numerous and simply unfounded.

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The Center for Justice and Democracy announced the release of a new briefing book titled “Tort Litigation and Juries: By the Numbers.” Our personal injury lawyers thought it was important to share this book dedicated to revealing various statistics about tort litigation, helping the average person understand the real facts surrounding tort litigation.

The Center for Justice and Democracy is a national consumer organization located in New York that is dedicated to protecting our civil justice system. Its main goal is to fight back against special interest groups and corporations that are trying to make it more challenging for plaintiffs to reach the courtroom by hiding behind the label of “tort reform.” So-called tort reform is a movement that seeks to bombard the public with false statistics and outrageous claims to make it appear that our courtrooms are constantly flooded with tort cases. This movement is supported and funded by corporations whose main goal is to keep themselves out of the courtroom as defendants, even when they are negligent. This is the mindset that the Center for Justice and Democracy and similar groups are trying to combat. In fact, the new book helps to expose some of the lies that these tort reformers tell to the public everyday. For example, tort cases are actually a very small percentage of the civil caseload and this number is actually declining in state courts.

This new book on tort litigation is an excellent tool for the American consumer to use in understanding their legal rights and to educate themselves on the tort litigation process. Additionally, it helps to undermine many of the lies that tort reform groups use to keep injured plaintiffs out of our courtrooms where they rightfully belong. The nine-page book provides a quick list of statistics on tort reform, jury mentality and damages information.

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On Tuesday the American Association for Justice (AAJ) launched Take Justice Back, a campaign to teach Americans why they should care about protecting the civil justice system. According to the Take Justice Back website, there are four main purposes of the Take Justice Back campaign. These include; educating people on how their rights are threatened, motivating Americans by sharing stories of others denied justice, engaging consumers via social media, and empowering activism by creating a place where people can share information, send letters to Congress, sign petitions, and link to their own blogs.

Take Justice Back aims to protect consumers from corporations who have lobbied to avoid liability by using phrases like “tort reform” and “frivolous lawsuits.” Tort reform refers to proposed changes in the common law civil justice systems that aim to reduce tort litigation or damages. Frivolous lawsuits refer to corporate allegations that consumers are making up injuries to try and win large sums of money. There are several corporate front groups behind these efforts. These groups include the Institute for Legal Reform, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the American Tort Reform Association, the Civil Justice Reform Group, and the Searle Civil Justice Institute. To learn more about these groups, and the ways that they use paperwork, money, and political power to prevent innocent consumers from fighting back against negligent corporations please click here.

The Take Justice Back website allows consumers to search their state to find out if there is a cap on the damages awarded in medical malpractice cases. While many states do place these caps, fortunately for Illinois residents, there is not a cap. The Illinois Supreme Court Ruled in 2010 that such caps on noneconomic damages violate the Illinois State Constitution. One of the most important functions of the Take Justice Back website is a section that educates the American consumer on the fictions that powerful politically connected corporate backed groups try to pass off as facts.

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Iowa’s 1st District Democratic Congressman Bruce L. Braley drafted an eloquent letter to the Honorable Patrick Leahy, urging the Senator to prioritize patient safety and ensure that any medical malpractice reform in the budget discussion is focused on the most effective way to reduce medical malpractice cases in America: by reducing medical errors! Representative Braley pointed out that the most significant way to reduce the overall costs of medical malpractice is to emphasize patient safety. As we just blogged about on Monday, the WHO reported that out of every 100 hospitalized patients at any given time, seven individuals in developed countries and ten in developing countries will acquire at least one health-care associated infection. Costs associated with medical negligence claims here in the United States account for only 1.36% of all spending for health care in 207, yet by reducing the number of preventable medical errors, we can realize a major impact on public health and cost. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports that every single year, preventable medical errors cause the wrongful deaths of as many as 98,000 Americans.
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Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers hear a lot of talk about the “need” for medical malpractice lawsuit damages caps, which we consider as an absolute detriment to justice. We were happy to see an article revealing the real effects of medical malpractice damages caps. One medical malpractice lawyer recalled an interesting case that he was handling in a state with medical malpractice damages cap. The defendant doctor in the medical malpractice lawsuit had removed a boy’s colon instead of his spleen. The boy had a genetic disorder that was causing his spleen to limit his body’s red blood cell production. After his colon was mistakenly removed, surgeons had to attach the medical malpractice victim’s large intestine to his rectal stub. The surgeon who made the medical mistake was actually never sued. They never saw a courtroom. The surgeon was never given the opportunity to defend himself or herself and the victim was never able to see a courtroom. Instead, an insurance company simply handed the family of the victim $500,000. That is the maximum the family would have been able to receive if it went to court, given the state’s cap on non-economic damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits.

As aptly described by the boy’s medical malpractice lawyer, the law limiting medical malpractice damages has succeeded only in giving bad doctors slaps on the wrists for committing malpractice, while also increasing insurance company profits by limiting their damage awards to victims of those same bad doctors. Proponents, as we are aware, allege that the law drastically reduces medical malpractice insurance premiums for doctors. According to a 2010 insurance commissioner report, the state averages 273 medical malpractice claims per year, down a mere 7 from 280 in 2008.
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Our Illinois personal injury lawyers always keep abreast of changes at both the state and federal level. Unfortunately, changes are being proposed in both arenas that would take away the rights of injury victims and other vulnerable community members, particular those in Illinois nursing homes. At the state level, proposed budget cuts would dangerously lower the amount of aid given to ensure that staffing levels remain adequate and that the overall treatment of seniors at these facilities meets basic quality standards.

On top of those state threats, the care of our senior citizens is also at risk from possible changes by federal officials. The Consumer Voice has information on these latest challenges which risk rolling back nearly four decades of safety improvements. What’s more is that additional federal Medicare and Medicaid spending cuts may be added to the proposed state cuts to severely hurt many vulnerable seniors who need certain care to survive. It would not be an understatement to note that lives are literally on the line when it comes to this resource allocation.

The potential national changes are taking two forms: a resolution known as the “Ryan Budget Proposal” and separate Medicare and Medicaid caps. The budget proposals would essentially repeal forty years of work to raise the formerly abysmal standards at many nursing homes. If the changes are enacted these facilities would face less inspections and less enforcement-many facilities will undoubtedly slide back into poorer care and less oversight. Thousands of seniors would suffer. Those regulatory changes would then be combined with crippling Medicare and Medicaid reductions which would leave many seniors with no options for help.

We urge you to please consider making contact with your U.S. Senator to encourage their support for our area seniors. An email, letter, phone call, town hall meeting comment, or any other method of communication will go a long way to ensure that thousands of elderly community members are spared pain and suffering.
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An Illinois personal injury lawyer is aware of the need to protect the basic legal rights of negligence victims from the big interests that seek to strip them away. Over the last several months we have been following the advancements of the latest effort to eliminate rights encapsulated in legislation known as House Resolution 5 or the HEALTH Act. If passed the measure would essentially destroy many basic legal provisions that have long been given to Illinois medical malpractice victims and those hurt by nursing home neglect.

Blog readers are aware that the bill has already been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. Before reaching the full Senate for consideration is must first pass through the Senate’s Energy & Commerce. That committee is expected to hold hearings on the bill beginning tomorrow and continuing on Wednesday, before potentially being sent to the full United States Senate for an up or down vote.

During this week’s committee process, legislators can offer amendments which may change some specific provisions of the bill. Following that option, the committee members will vote to send it to the full Senate. If amendments are made to the legislation by the committee before it is sent to the full Senate (and if it passes the entire Senate), than the two chambers of Congress must meet and reconcile the different versions of the bill before sending it to the President for his potential approval.

Those who have followed this measure know that it represents an egregious attempt by big insurance interests and the medical lobby to strip victims of legal rights. The claimed “problem” of medical malpractice lawsuits has been cited again and again, even though those claims run directly counter to evidence. It is vital that this bill be stopped or for the most draconian portions of the legislation to be amended out.
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Tort reform measures are opposed by advocates on all ends of the spectrum. Some local observers may roll their eyes when a Chicago personal injury attorney argues against tort changes. But a diverse range of individuals share concerns about unnecessary changes to our legal system.

For example, the 10th Amendment Center recently explained how a free-market constitutional scholar at the Independence Institute penned a long attack outlining the logical constitutional objections to the medical malpractice bill known as H.R. 5. The man admits that he has previously been a conservative Republican political activist and was at one time a Republican gubernatorial candidate.

The advocate explains his confusion that so-called conservatives would support H.R. 5, which he describes as “a measure based on a grossly overly-expansive view of the authority of Congress.” It is his position that it violates both the 9th and 10th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The proponents of the bill claim that Congress has the power to act pursuant to the “Commerce Clause,” but the subject matter at issue-civil court actions-have little no relation to commerce as the Founders intended. Alternatively, the “Necessary and Proper Clause” offers no congressional power mandate either.

Overall, H.R. 5 represents a disregard of American federalism and distortion of the role of the federal government and the states. It is important that our Congressional representatives be held accountable for their actions and words. All those who vocally support the limited role of the federal government should take policy positions consistent with that opinion, regardless of the particular interest group to which the policy appeals.
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