The impending showdown between House Republicans and the Obama Administration over the federal budget has no clearer battlefield than the issue of medical malpractice. The Republicans’ clarion call for decades now has been tort reform and stopping the “frivolous lawsuits”. Yet each time they mention the phrase they fail to cite a concrete case. They scarcely have time to take a breath before the words “trial lawyers” are also thrown into the frothy mix. While this makes for good theater, it has very little to do with the truth or the reality of the situation in America today. The real issue isn’t lawsuits or tort reform but patient safety. In spite of our technological sophistication and scientific advances, 100,000 Americans lose their lives each year due to medical errors that are preventable. This is the real issue. Yet, we often hear rhetoric from our elected officials that would lead us to believe that fiscal responsibility has nothing to do with patient safety.
Our form of democracy works precisely because there are checks and balances. It works because ordinary citizens have access to a civil justice system in which they are able to address harmful conduct. It works because ordinary folks still believe that they have the same rights as the rich and powerful. That’s what makes this country great. That’s what makes us the gold standard for the rest of the world.
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