Hypocrisy in the tort reform debate is commonplace. Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys often defend our work against those who suggest that seeking accountability and redress when wronged by another is somehow morally wrong. In an effort to sell certain tort reform proposals, these “advocates” usually refer to lofty principles of self-reliance and suggest that so many of our society’s problems can be mysteriously traced back to injury victims seeking justice. These arguments are always flawed, and they are usually bankrolled by those who have much to gain by limiting the rights of medical malpractice victims and others injured by negligence.
Certain elements of the national political process have taken up tort reform a signature argument used to rile up certain elements of their base. Yet, many of the nation’s most vehement opponents of the civil justice conveniently fail to mention that their own family uses that system when it happens to suit their needs.
One recent exemplar of this hypocrisy is Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum-the former Senator from Pennsylvania. Last year a medical malpractice attorney posted a video that discussed Senator Santorum’s “do what I say, not what I do” attitude when it comes to these issues. The attorneys reminded listeners what tort reform actually means: certain aspects of the law will be predetermined before an accident even happens. It is one thing to stand up and say that victims of terrible accidents, such as egregious, preventable medical mistakes, should not be able to recover much. It is another to have your family become victimized in this way and then still believe that the victims should not recover.
What usually happens is that once an individual finds themselves on the wrong end of another’s mistake, they change their tune and seek to use the justice system in a fair way for redress and accountability. For example, in Senator Santorum’s case, his wife was injured by a medical error. The family filed a medical malpractice lawsuit and sought significant damages for injuries. In making that argument the family claimed that the tort reform laws (damage caps) in the state should not apply in her case. Specifically, the family’s attorney noted that the jury should always be the one to decide damage amounts after hearing the evidence in a case. Knowing that their position was hypocritical, the family actually tried to have the court records sealed from public view. The judge rejected that claim, and so that all of us can read for ourselves about the hypocrisy of one who claims to support damage caps except when they would apply to his family.
Taking away rights when they don’t affect you and then demanding access to those rights when you happen to need them is the epitome of hypocrisy. It is the type of conduct that we need to root out of the political system to ensure that things are fair for everyone-not just those in positions of power and influence and their allies. Please keep this issue in mind throughout the upcoming election cycle. Candidates at all levels-particularly in state governments, Congress, and the Presidency, may have a lot to say about access to the justice system over the next few months. Pay close attention to their arguments and see if their words actually match up with reality.
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