August 14, 2022

"Down With Lawsuits!! (Unless it’s MY Lawsuit)"

GOP presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, is coming under fire on a tort reform issue. Candidate Santorum endorses caps or limits on medical malpractice lawsuit recoveries by aggrieved plaintiffs. In 1999, though, Senator Santorum testified for his wife in a medical malpractice lawsuit she filed against a Burke, VA chiropractor. (See article in the Washington Post, 1/29/12, )

In 1999, Sen. Santorum’s wife gave birth prematurely to a baby boy, who died that same day. Suffering from back pain post-delivery, Santorum’s wife sought relief from a Fairfax County, VA chiropractor. That chiropractor performed what he and other experts later argued was a standard spinal manipulation, usual for such symptoms. Soon thereafter, Mrs. Santorum was diagnosed with a herniated lumbar disk, necessitating surgery. Karen Santorum sued the chiropractor and won a $375,000 jury award. Post-trial, the judge reduced it to $175,000.

Some now criticize Candidate Santorum for being hypocritical, suggesting that there is one standard of recovery for the masses and a different one for the politically elite.

Santorum counters that his proposed cap is on general damages of pain and sufferin, not on special damages.

I don’t intend to get political here or throw bricks at Rick Santorum. The vignette spotlights an interesting issue, though. Sometimes our public policy leaning – often influenced by our profession – clashes with our real-life habits. As a claims person, I tend to favor tort reform, or most variants of it. If, however, my wife or my kids were seriously injured due to another’s negligence, I would likely “sue for the max” to make them whole, unconstrained by any analytical arguments for tort reform.

For example, despite all the jibes about lawyers, if you or a loved one find yourself in a tough jam, you definitely want a lawyer and the best one available.

We can joke around and quote Shakespeare who wrote, “First, kill all the lawyers…” When the shoe is on the other foot, though, and you are in crisis, a good lawyer is often what you need and want. There are scads of lawyer jokes but, as I often point out, the lawyers often get the last laugh, all the way to the bank.

That does not make us – or Rick Santorum – hypocrites, at least not in my view.

Have you ever had a personal experience that prompted you to reassess your “professional” view as a claims/risk professional on the tort and legal system?

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