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Guest Editorial

LaRee Miller, Executive DirectorUtah Citizens Alliance

Last week I was asked by a group of citizens to explain tort reform. I wish I could have told them it was something wonderful — that all grandmothers bake for Valentine’s Day — but, unfortunately, I couldn’t.

I stated: "A tort is a wrongful act, injury or damage to property or a person’s legal rights for which a civil action can be brought. A few examples are car wrecks, dangerous products and professional negligence like medical malpractice."

I continued on that tort "reforms" are laws that make it more difficult for consumers to sue and be fully compensated for their injuries. This shields the wrongdoers responsible for the injuries and harm they cause. In the 1980s, insurance companies argued that too many lawsuits were responsible for unaffordable liability insurance. Their claim was that tort reform would bring down insurance rates.

In 1986 Utah passed a law capping non-economic damages (pain and suffering) at $250,000 for victims of medical malpractice, stating the cap would give the medical profession a break on their high liability insurance premiums.

Twenty years later the medical community is still requesting more "tort reform," claiming they still can’t afford their liability insurance premiums.

Currently, during this legislative session, the medical professions are pursuing three "tort reform" bills. SB 41, referred to as the Apology bill, allows for a doctor to offer an apology and then "hide behind" the apology in a court of law. Anything he tells the patient or the patient’s family that happened can also be inadmissible in court. The admission could destroy your claim if you later decided you wanted a jury of your peers to hear the case.

HB 270 — Emergency Medical Service Provider Tort Reform — wants to grant immunity for doctors working in emergency rooms. Legislators believe if physicians are granted immunity for the harm they cause during ER situations, then more doctors will be willing to take emergency room calls.

It is no secret that most physicians dislike ER because of the long hours and major pressures they endure. It’s also the hospital administration that dictates such money-saving schedules. Hospitals and doctors who staff an ER need to be responsible for the care they render or fail to give.

SB 133 — Liability Protections for Charity Care — is another tort reform bill. If you go to a "free clinic" for medical care, this bill would give the clinic the right to not carry liability insurance. They argue that doctors working in charity clinics should be granted immunity from liability because they offer free care and more doctors would be willing to work in these clinics if patients cannot file a claims for harm. None of us are granted immunity from becoming one of their injured victims. Perhaps we should request immunity from the Legislature to drop our auto insurance liability. It would make driving a lot cheaper!

Now, I think you understand what tort reform is. You can be injured and have no recourse to be "made whole" because everyone has been granted immunity when they harm you or a loved one. You too, could fall in a manhole with no one responsible for negligence.

Hospitals will never clean up the ER and their medical problems if there is no accountability. Don’t think for a moment that doctors are going to start apologizing and handing out money. Their whole intent is to have you say, "Oh, that’s OK," and walk away.

LaRee Miller became a patient advocate nine years ago after losing both of her parents to medical malpractice. She lives in Jeremy Ranch.


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