Opinion

Dicks’ response on tort reform was less than satisfactory

The Port Orchard Independent accurately reported a portion of my question addressed to Rep. Norm Dicks in Bremerton (“Dicks faces feisty crowd at townhall meeting,” Sept. 4).

The story also quoted the congressman pretty accurately in response. To fully understand the nature of my exchange with Dicks, however, I’m presenting my question in its entirety.

By doing so it might help readers understand how obtuse the response.

“At a recent town hall meeting hosted by your colleague Jim Moran (D-Va.), he was asked the following question: ‘There’s $200 million (This number seems very low. Most experts would quote that number as yearly rather than 10 years) over 10 years in savings if we had tort reform and nobody loses but the lawyers. Why have we not even considered that tonight in the discussion, sir? Tell the American people that.’

“Moran punted the question over to Howard Dean. This is the answer from a doctor and a politician. ‘Here is why tort reform is not in the bill. When you go to pass a really enormous bill like that, the more stuff you put in it, the more enemies you make, right? And the reason why tort reform is not in the bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everybody else they were taking on, and that is the plain and simple truth.’

“My question to you (Congressman Dicks): What is your position on tort reform? Does Dr. Dean reflect your position on why tort reform is not included in any of the bills under consideration? Would you support any tort reform that would severely restrict punitive damage awards and as a consequence reduce the huge cost of defensive medicine?”

The Congressman’s answer as quoted in the Independent: “I have always opposed tort reform,” he said. “When someone goes to the hospital and they take off the wrong limb or the wrong breast, I think that person should be able to sue and get the damages they deserve.”

In the first place, there is nothing in my question that suggests that truly injured parties should not be able to sue for damages.

On this point, I’m in agreement with Mr. Dicks and consider his response as an effort to deflect away from the real subject of cost which was exactly what happened.

Secondly, my question was prompted by the president’s stated desire to reduce costs, and there is no question that defensive medicine is a huge cost driver.

If we take the president at his word that cost-reduction is the goal, everything should be on the table.

Let’s broaden the lens a little.

Are there doctors out there who have made mistakes and caused great damage? Yes, and they should pay the consequences.

Are there doctors who have performed heroic deeds in the most dire of circumstances and still not saved the patient? Yes, and we need a system that justly handles their cases and doesn’t put them at the same risk.

There are many lawyers willing to represent aggrieved parties — some legitimate and some not so much.

Those lawyers will venue-shop, judge-shop and jury-shop using jury consultants, and they will employ expert witnesses using the resources of the Trial Lawyers Association.

This is a very organized and sophisticated business, and there’s a lot of money in it.

At the other end of this string is an insurance company doing pretty much the same thing and at the end of the day it costs everyone in the system a lot of money. This sounds like a system ripe for reform and I would hope the congressman would revisit his stated position in order to address that reform.

Dick Davis is a Port Orchard resident.

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