Marketing Machines that Sell American Juries Short
There seems to be more and more crowing about the medical malpractice sky falling by predictable lobbies parading as advocates for the people.
Take the chairman of Common Good, Phillip K. Howard, who recently suggested in The Washington Examiner that our constitutional right to a jury trial should be abolished. In the future, he contends, all medical negligence claims should be forced into a tribunal where decisions are made by specially trained insurance panels and compensation is doled out according to a “schedule of benefits.”
Howard failed to mention that as partner in one New York’s largest corporate defense law firms, Covington and Burling LLP, he was one of the chief architects of the so-called “tort reform” movement and served as counsel for Big Tobacco. Recently, he’s founded “Common Good,” a front group that hides its true purpose behind a doublespeak name and high-priced public relations spin to mask a corporate agenda.
Howard’s real goal is to abolish the American jury system and replace it with elite decision-makers sympathetic to the interests of his corporate and professional clients. In 2005, the American Medical Association, so impressed with his efforts on their behalf, awarded him their Presidential Citation.
According to Howard, the possibility of being sued has created a “culture of fear” among doctors that is causing inefficiencies at every level of medicine. Of course, this is pure propaganda. Most doctors are never sued for malpractice. In 2005, out of over 800,000 licensed doctors in this country, only 17,298 reported a malpractice settlement or judgment (less than one percent).
Howard further attempts to perpetuate the myth that the civil justice system is out-of-control. Yet many empirical studies have shown American juries to be rational in their decisions and, if anything, slightly biased in favor of doctors. The Harvard study cited by Howard found that the civil justice system performs reasonably well in its function of separating claims without merit from those with merit and compensating the meritorious ones. When there was jury error, the more common inaccuracy was the jury’s failure to compensate a meritorious claim.
In fact, the jury system is the best institution we have for putting individuals on an equal footing with wealthy corporations. The civil justice system provides an objective process in which everyday people can defend their rights and hold the most powerful interests in society accountable. It is far too easy – and frightening – to imaging what would happen if corporations only focused on the bottom line and were never held responsible for negligent decisions.
Its no wonder powerful interests – like the ones that Howard represents – are lobbying so hard to weaken the justice system.
Submitted by Barry Boughton, Attorney, Public Citizen