Tort Reform Hypocrite Settles Slip and Fall Lawsuit

As reported by the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog, former Supreme Court nominee, strict constructionist judge, and tort-reform advocate Robert Bork settled his lawsuit against the Yale Club after he fell while attempting to step onto the dais to speak.

The settlement terms were undisclosed, so little is known about the lawsuit other than those pleadings filed with the Court. However, a review of the complaint filed by Judge Bork’s attorneys at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher–who are typically defense counsel and presumably represented Bork because of his high profile–reveals two absolute truths about the case: (1) Regardless of whether the Yale Club was liable for Judge Bork’s injuries, Judge Bork was seriously injured and required significant medical care to address his injuries; and (2) Judge Bork’s lawsuit embodies many of the tactics and strategies that Judge Bork decried in his tort reform efforts.

San Diego Consumers Protected By Defeat of Tort Reform Class Action Legislation

Earlier today, the California Assembly rejected AB 1505 by failing to pass it out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

The bill received so little support that when Van Tran (R-Costa Mesa) moved the bill, it did not receive a second and therefore failed without a vote.

The Civil Justice Association of California (CJAC) continues to press the meat of AB 1505 through a costly initiative process.

Assemblymember Nicole Parra (D-Hanford) stated, in bringing the bill, that it would do nothing to prevent legitimate class actions from being brought. However, she hoped that it would prevent lawyers from gaining large verdicts and plaintiff class membes seeing little compensation as a result. She further stated that AB 1505 attempted to align state with federal law.

However, according to the Consumer Attorneys of California (CAOC), AB 1505 would undermine the civil justice system by preventing an ordinary citizens’ right to bring a class action lawsuit in California. Among the provisions of AB 1505 that CAOC objected to:

1. The bill would have required each individual class member to prove their individual claim and extent of damages. Most importantly, it would have required trial evidence on both the plaintiff and defense side to be “substantially the same”.
2. The bill would have given the defendant the right to bypass class counsel to communicate directly with class members to make a settlement offer directly to the defense. This would have bypassed and destroyed the attorney-client relationship. It would have also allowed the defendant to make low ball offers and use threats to force class members to disregard their counsel’s advice.
3. The bill would also have stayed discovery of the merits of the case until the class was certified. This provision ignores the fact that the discovery process allows plaintiffs the ability to prove the existence of a broader class by being able to identify potential class members.

Our office is pleased by the defeat of this bill. Tort Reform supporters fail to recognize the need for class action attorneys to represent the rights of numerous consumers who have been wronged by the illegal acts of large companies. The importance of class action attorneys has been heightened in recent decades due to the reluctance of the government to enforce its’ own laws, leaving it to class action attorneys as “private attorney generals.”

If there is an objection to class action attorneys being paid for their services, it should be that we–as taxpayers–have already paid the government to do the job through our taxes and they have failed to do so.

One of Tort Reform’s Biggest Lies Disproved….Again

We’ve written twice now about Oklahoma’s current tort reform efforts led by Republican Senate President Pro Tem Tom Glenn Coffee (R–Oklahoma City), a former medical malpractice defense lawyer.

One of the big myths leading the Oklahoma tort reform movement and tort reform, in general, is that without tort reform, doctors will flee to other jurisdictions with tort reform. The argument goes that with tort reform, medical malpractice insurance rates go down and attract doctors–while high insurance rates drive doctors away.

The problem is that the data does not support the myth. That is the case again in Oklahoma. According to this Edmond, OK news story, the number of Oklahoma doctors is increasing even while the tort reform movement is claiming they are fleeing. In addition, the doctor-owned medical malpractice insurance carrier, Physicians Liability Insurance Company, is in the best financial shape in its three-decade-long existence. The company is posting record profits and will be the clear winner if the Oklahoma tort reform bill passes limiting injured medical patient’s right to be compensated for injuries caused by their professionally negligent doctors.

Like any political issue, it is always important to look and investigate the real data underlying the tort reform movement. Is there a real reason to substantially limit injury victim’s right to justice? If so, what is the purported benefit? And, last, is that benefit worth the cost? In almost all cases, the answer to these tort reform questions is “No”.

If you or any of your loved ones have been injured or killed due to medical malpractice, contact San Diego medical malpractice lawyer and the San Diego personal injury attorneys.

Oklahoma Tort Reform Measure Revisited

Clayton Hasbrook, an Oklahoma City personal injury lawyer with the law firm Hasbrook & Hasbrook, recently cited our blog and our post about the Oklahoma Tort Reform bill.

Given that he represents the very people this bill will affect, Clayton has some strong opinions about the bill.

Oklahoma Tort Reform: An Unfounded and Misguided Attack on Injury Accident Victims

About a month ago, we wrote about the emerging and ongoing efforts by Oklahoma Republican legislators and former medical malpractice defense attorney and Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee (R-Oklahoma City) to initiate a new batch of tort reform measures. In our post, we argued that the Oklahoma tort reform plan does not go far enough because it does not require doctors to take substantive positions regarding their own negligence.

However, the Oklahoma tort reform measure keeps growing additional reform measures–all of which hurt Oklahomans and are being sold to the public as a way to prevent “greedy plaintiffs’ lawyers” from profiting from “frivolous lawsuits”. Never mind the fact that the job of barring frivolous plaintiffs from recovering is the role of the insurance defense lawyer and judge, not the Oklahoma legislature.

The most recent Oklahoma tort reform attacks include special class action rules for lawsuits brought against tobacco companies, a cap on non-economic damages (also known as “pain and suffering”) at $300,000, expert certification before a lawsuit can proceed, and requiring consumers to “opt in” rather than “opt out” of class action litigation.

One of the more egregious tort reform measures interferes with an injury accident victim’s ability to find a lawyer by placing compensation restrictions on that attorney. Contingency fees, meaning fees which are only collected upon a successful completion of litigation, are capped at 33 percent of the first $1 million dollars recovered under the proposed measure. For higher awards, the contingency fee award is limited at 20 percent.

While some may not appreciate the effect the contingency fee cap would have on the civil justice system, I can personally tell you that the proposed cap would make it nearly impossible, if not completely impossible for some people with legitimate injury accident claims to find an attorney. A contingency fee arrangement allows someone who cannot afford to hire an attorney at $300 or $400 per hour (rates normally charged by insurance defense counsel, and paid by insurance companies to defend lawsuits) to hire an attorney. A contingency fee spreads the risk of failure from the client alone to both the client and his attorney. The rate charged reflects the anticipated value of services provided to the client (as well as the risk of failure) relative to the anticipated value of the case. It is not unusual for lawyers in simple, straightforward claims to charge less than 33%. Similarly, it is not unusual for lawyers in far riskier cases to charge as much as 40-50% for their fees. The fluctuation in the rate reflects the additional risk that the attorney might not ultimately be paid for his time.

What happens if the rate is artificially capped? Injury accident victims in riskier cases might not be able to find an attorney on a contingency fee basis because the anticipated risk calls for a fee that is higher than the capped rate set by the legislature. In those cases, lawyers might decline a contingency fee relationship and propose an hourly fee arrangement that most injury accident victims simply cannot afford.

Meanwhile, like all tort reform measures, the Oklahoma tort reform bill does not place any additional restrictions or requirements upon insurance companies or insurance defense counsel regarding their fees. Insurance companies can still pay however much they decide is appropriate to hire the best legal defense team they can. This is simply not fair and Oklahomans bear the sole cost of this unfairness.

If you live in Oklahoma, write to your governor and legislator and inform them that you do not support the Oklahoma tort reform bill.

Oklahoma Tort Reform: An Unfounded and Misguided Attack on Injury Accident Victims

About a month ago, we wrote about the emerging and ongoing efforts by Oklahoma Republican legislators and former medical malpractice defense attorney and Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee (R-Oklahoma City) to initiate a new batch of tort reform measures. In our post, we argued that the Oklahoma tort reform plan does not go far enough because it does not require doctors to take substantive positions regarding their own negligence.

However, the Oklahoma tort reform measure keeps growing additional reform measures–all of which hurt Oklahomans and are being sold to the public as a way to prevent “greedy plaintiffs’ lawyers” from profiting from “frivolous lawsuits”. Never mind the fact that the job of barring frivolous plaintiffs from recovering is the role of the insurance defense lawyer and judge, not the Oklahoma legislature.

The most recent Oklahoma tort reform attacks include special class action rules for lawsuits brought against tobacco companies, a cap on non-economic damages (also known as “pain and suffering”) at $300,000, expert certification before a lawsuit can proceed, and requiring consumers to “opt in” rather than “opt out” of class action litigation.

One of the more egregious tort reform measures interferes with an injury accident victim’s ability to find a lawyer by placing compensation restrictions on that attorney. Contingency fees, meaning fees which are only collected upon a successful completion of litigation, are capped at 33 percent of the first $1 million dollars recovered under the proposed measure. For higher awards, the contingency fee award is limited at 20 percent.

Will Schwarzenegger and GOP Hurt Californians With Tort Reform?

We’ve written about the misguided instrument known as tort reform that is intended to help protect society from runaway litigation costs, but really only helps irresponsible companies and people from having to pay for the full extent of the damage they cause for others.

California is no stranger to tort reform measures, such as MICRA, which has been a boon to insurance companies in reducing their risks while still permitting them to charge exorbitant rates to doctors to protect them from medical malpractice claims. Now, in an effort to solve the California budget shortfall, Governor Schwarzenegger and the Republicans in the legislature are trying to force tort reform measures into law.

The most destructive of these measures is the implementation of a damages cap on pain and suffering. Damage caps are arbitrary and, in my opinion, illegally remove authority from jurors to determine appropriate damages in a civil case. The arbitrariness of damage caps is made even worse when the cap is set at a ridiculously low level–$250,000 as proposed by the Governor.

The Governor’s attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the injured is misplaced and unfair.

The Arbitrary and Unfair Impact of Tort Reform

Earlier today, my friend and New York medical malpractice attorney, Gerry Oginski posted on Facebook to a New York medical malpractice verdict against a podiatrist. The verdict was noteworthy in that the jury awarded $3,000,000 for the victim’s pain and suffering ($1.5 million for past pain and suffering and $1.5 million for future pain and suffering).

This sparked a discussion amongst several lawyers from throughout the country about how inequitable tort reform laws are to the victim solely because of where they choose to live or receive medical treatment.

In New York, there is no tort reform cap on pain and suffering damages. Therefore, the $3,000,000 verdict, so long as it is supported by evidence, will not be reduced. However, here in California, we have MICRA–California’s tort reform measure which places certain limits and requirements on medical malpractice lawyers and their injured clients. Specifically, the California legislature has placed a cap on pain and suffering at $250,000. It does not matter how badly injured you are, whether you need constant medication to live with moderate pain for the rest of your life, had 2 wrong limbs amputated, etc. California has decided that under NO circumstances is anyone’s pain and suffering worth more than $250,000 when injured by a doctor.

So, let’s assume that we have 2 people who have suffered the same injury and have the same prognosis. The only difference is that one was injured by a New York doctor and the other by a California doctor. The former victim will get compensated $3,000,000 for his pain and suffering while the other will only recover $250,000.

That is just not fair or right.

The tort reform mess gets even worse in other states, such as in Indiana. In the Hoosier State, total damages are capped at $1.25 million for all damages. This is true even if current and future medical treatment exceed $10 million and lost wages are $3 million or more.

This inequality in results, based solely on geographic location where the injury occurred, cannot stand. Tort reform has created this and many other unfair results for injured people, all in the name of saving society from runaway litigation costs–which have been proven time and time again not to exist.

One of these days, the public will hopefully wake up and rescind these unfair tort reform laws. Until then, these unequal results will continue.

The Oklahoma Expert Certification Tort Reform Bill: A Good Idea or Does It Not Go Far Enough?

The Oklahoma legislature is currently considering a tort reform bill that would require people wishing to file a civil lawsuit for professional negligence (medical malpractice, accounting malpractice, legal malpractice, etc.) to obtain and attach an affidavit that the person has consulted with a qualified expert who has reviewed the facts of the case. The bill addresses all professional negligence but there can be no doubt that its’ main goal is to reduce the number of medical malpractice lawsuits by prohibiting lawsuits without expert support.

The affidavit must include a statement that the expert has provided a written opinion to support the allegation of professional negligence. If the affidavit is not filed, the lawsuit may be dismissed.

The bill, House Bill 1570, is similar to a bill vetoed by Oklahoma’s governor last year. Six states, including Georgia, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New York, and Pennsylvania, already require expert certification before filing a professional negligence lawsuit. The cost of having an expert review medical records and provide a written opinion can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 in most cases. The news story cites an example where an expert charged a medical malpractice victim $12,000 for his pre-litigation expert opinion.

The NewsOK.com news story prompted me to post a provocative tweet on Twitter, which then received several comments from Walter Olson of the legal reform website Overlawyered.com and Chris Davis of the Seattle personal injury law firm, the Davis Law Group.

My original opinion was that the Oklahoma expert certification bill is actually a good tort reform idea because it only requires an injured person to obtain a supporting expert opinion prior to filing suit–something any good and responsible medical malpractice attorney do. To prevail in a claim of medical malpractice, the person alleging the injury must prove that the doctor breached the professional standard of care for their field and that this breach actually caused the injury. To do this, an expert witness in the same field as the defendant doctor must be hired to review the medical records of the injured patient. While the bill places a burden on the injured patient’s right to access to the courts, it merely requires what careful and prudent medical malpractice lawyers already do.

On the other hand, is the Oklahoma legislature ignoring a second equally obvious method of expert certification which would further reduce the waste caused by “frivolous” lawsuits.

In response to my original Twitter post, Chris Davis suggests that the Oklahoma legislature also require defendant doctors obtain expert certification that they did not breach the professional standard of care. In other words, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Mr. Davis points out, rightly so, that a great deal of time, money, and resources are wasted in litigation fighting “frivolous defenses” created by the defendant to muddy the waters at trial. Remember, the injured patient bears the burden of proof at trial. It is a tried and true defense tactic to “throw mud” at trial–to raise irrelevant but upsetting facts–in the hopes the jury will be so confused that they will find for the defendant doctor. Much of the discovery process is spent trying to eliminate as many of these frivolous defenses as possible.

By eliminating the frivolous defense of claiming that the defendant doctor did not commit malpractice–perhaps along with an attorneys’ fees and cost penalty against the doctor if a jury found that the doctor had indeed committed malpractice–the scope of disputed issues would be greatly eliminated, saving litigation costs and judicial resources.

Perhaps the Oklahoma legislature should be encouraged to go one step further in its’ tort reform efforts.

Contingency Fees Preferred by Clients, Study Finds

The Manhattan Institute is a conservative think tank that pushes a tort-reform agenda as it attacks plaintiffs’ attorneys for numerous evils, both real and perceived. One of the primary gripes tort-reformers have against plaintiffs’ attorneys is that the contingency fee agreements used so prevalently in litigation–a legal fee agreement where the client pays a percentage of any recovery to the attorney for his services–unjustly exploit clients who cannot afford hourly attorneys’ fees and thereby unjustly enrich attorneys at their expense.

So, it’s ironic that The Manhattan Institute’s PointofLaw website recently published a story describing the findings of a legal fees study performed by Israeli behavioral economists Eyal Zamir and Ilana Ritov. The study, titled, “Neither Saints nor Devils: A Behavioral Analysis of Attorneys’ Contingent Fees” found that–contrary to the beliefs of tort-reformers–the vast majority of litigation clients prefer contingency fee agreements to the traditional billable hour fee agreement.

The study reaches a number of conclusions, but the key conclusion is that clients are risk-averse. They prefer a fee arrangement where the attorney shares the risk of litigation with them, even if that means the client ends up paying more in attorneys fees for that service. The attractiveness of the contingency fee agreement is that if the client wins, he will recover monetary damages, and, if he does not win, he does not owe any money in attorneys fees (“heads I win, tails let’s call it even).

Think about the utility and value of the contingency fee agreement the next time you hear some tort-reform argument, or, worse yet, a tort-reform initiative seeking to ban the contingency fee agreement.