Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you know that it has happened again – the most recent incident of horrific random gun violence has ended the lives of 6 brave adults and 20 precious children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
31,224 Americans die from gun violence each year; these are senseless tragedies that occupy our national news media outlets for days, sometimes weeks. A shocked and outraged nation weeps for the innocent victims and cries for solutions to these violent acts. Now in the aftermath of the Connecticut shootings, lawmakers finally seem prepared to tackle gun control, promising to introduce gun control legislation, ranging from a reinstatement of a federal ban on assault weapons to banning the sale of high-capacity magazines. Hopefully, the tragedy will also begin a nationwide referendum on our mental health system and Congress will find a way to budget for more and better mental health programs and care for our impaired citizens, young and old.
While I agree that something must be done to stop gun violence and to examine the mental health of those who commit these atrocities, I find it sad that the same attention cannot or does not focus upon innocent victims of medical malpractice. In fact, the only focus of our local and national politicians is in punishing the victims and going easy on the perpetrators. These policies encourage multiple and repeat commissions and serious consequences to victims and citizen health care costs. In other words, the victims pay with their deaths and/or their and their families’ suffering; the citizens pick up the tab (they should be borne by the offending health care provider) in larger health care costs and taxes.
An estimated 98,000 people die every year due to medical errors; that is more than three times the number killed by gun violence. These are senseless tragedies that usually don’t make national news. Why? Because twenty-six people are not killed at one time; 98,000 are killed, rather randomly, almost routinely, over the course of each year. This makes the deaths less newsworthy; yet, the malpractice epidemic is far greater than the gun violence “epidemic”.
Although medical malpractice isn't typically intentional or dramatic, like gun violence, it often involves gross negligence, sometimes, outrageous conduct. When someone commits an act of gun violence, they are usually hunted, apprehended and/or killed. This is not the case with negligent doctors; they are allowed to continue their negligent ways, even if they must move to another state. These doctors are allowed to repeat their conduct over and over and the nation turns the other cheek. Who weeps for the innocent victims of medical malpractice? It is their family and friends. Who cares about them? It is their family, their friends and their attorneys, who work tirelessly to hold the guilty accountable in a system that politicians are increasingly legislating to the benefit of the perpetrators.
The reaction to mass murder in Connecticut is "we need to ban together as a nation to fix this problem; it’s our responsibility to make people safe". Why the double standard? Why is the cry “to make people safe” not the same for malpractice victims? Instead, tort reform punishes the victim, reducing access to justice and fair compensation for damages. Tort reformers are not interested in stopping malpractice; they want to prevent or limit lawsuits. Isn’t this the very definition of a national double standard?
Despite some attention being given to eliminating medical errors and enhancing patient safety, we still see far too many avoidable medical errors. Where is the outcry for malpractice victims? When innocent victims try to seek compensation for their loss, some politician screams “junk” or “frivolous” lawsuit! The victim is blameless; hold the perpetrator responsible to the full extent of the law! Isn’t that what we citizens would demand if some deranged, gun-toting thug killed our family members? And how does seeking justice for these unfortunate victims make trial lawyers “greedy”? I am so sick of these negative labels being applied to some of our nations’ greatest advocates. I much prefer a system that places liability, compensation and justice in the hands of a judge and/or jury than a lobbyist and a politician. Yet, an unconscious nation allows the tort reformers to continue to strip our rights to justice.
What will it take for our leaders to take action? When will an angry nation stand up for these victims and protect its citizens? Many lives are saved when “safety” is our first priority, whether it is in our hospitals, schools, roadways, or homes. If we are “banning together” in a fight for “safety”, patients must be included.
Just as we seek to hold criminal gun owners fully accountable to their victims and to society, we should also hold doctors and hospitals fully accountable when avoidable medical errors cause injuries or deaths. Tort reform clearly negates such an effort; it deliberately re-victimizes victims to the benefit of doctors, hospitals and insurance companies. Damages caps benefit those who need assistance the least, doctors, insurance companies, and big business. These caps benefit the guilty and punish the innocent. And they leave you, the citizen, holding the bill, in the form of higher taxes for Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs. Why do we, the taxpayers, stand idly by while our various legislators bail out the wrongdoers?
Someday, it may you or your family member; it may be your time and your right to pursue justice as a victim of medical malpractice. The person(s) who killed or maimed you must be held fully accountable, not just for justice, but to prevent future occurrence. Educate yourself about your local, state and national politicians. Hold them accountable if they vote to restrict access to justice. If you live in a community where judges are elected rather than appointed, find out if they are fair and balanced jurists or if they have a political agenda. Hopefully, you will never have to utter these words: “Regretfully and unintentionally, I voted for people who enacted a law that now limits compensation vitally necessary to sustain my quality of life.”
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series—Mark Bello is also the CEO of Lawsuit Financial and the country’s leading expert in providing non-recourse lawsuit funding to plaintiffs involved in pending litigation. He is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.