- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Once upon a time, folks simply groused about those proverbial ambulance-chasers and called it a day. Things, however, have become considerably more organized.

“Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week” begins Oct. 3. A new poll claims that eight out of 10 Americans are wary of frivolous lawsuits. And behind it all, the 165,000-member Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) is ramping up “Sick of Lawsuits,” a public education campaign that equates litigation with compromised health care.

The group has bought advocacy ads in Roll Call to prove their point through a survey, which found that 79 percent of the respondents “believe advertising by personal-injury lawyers encourages people to sue, even if they have not been injured.”

The poll of 800 likely voters was taken Aug. 16-18.

CALA also cites a damaging array of research statistics surrounding class-action or personal lawsuits made against pharmaceutical companies, obstetricians and medical-device manufacturers, among others.

Among their findings: The American Medical Association has identified 20 states now facing a “medical-liability crisis,” while $70 billion to $126 billion could be saved in annual health care costs by limiting “unreasonable” jury awards.

The most recent high-profile case: A Texas jury last month awarded $253 million in damages to the family of man who died after taking the pain reliever Vioxx. The maker, Merck & Co., still faces an additional 5,000 lawsuits.

“Americans undoubtedly consider lawsuit abuse to be a significant barrier to quality health care,” said Dr. Evelyn Tobias-Merrill, a Texas physician and member of the CALA branch in Corpus Christi.

“These survey results make it painfully clear that we need meaningful legislative reforms to protect our health care from abuse,” she said. “We hope Congress will protect our health care system from unscrupulous personal-injury lawyers and frivolous lawsuits before it’s too late.”

But the California-based National Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (NAPIL) takes exception to the idea that litigation is a potential barrier to affordable heath care.

“I disagree with that view. I think plaintiffs’ rights are trampled each day because they get sick and tired of fighting the big corporations,” said NAPIL spokesman David Sheehan.

“Big corporations have huge resources and can kill plaintiff lawyers in litigations. It happens every day. Only when the wrong is so blatant can a plaintiff succeed, and then they have to fight it in higher courts.”

He added: “These are only efforts by big corporations that want to change laws to their advantage, slowly taking away the little that has been achieved in the way of compensation through the courts.”

Some research suggests that the CALA claims of an imperiled medical community are exaggerated. A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation released in May found that total medical-malpractice payments increased by under 2 percent annually from 1991 to 2003 when adjusted for medical care inflation. In the same time period, the number of physicians rose from 623,378 in 1992 to 814,909 in 2003.

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