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Like A Good Neighbor

There has not been a day that goes by recently that I do not become agitated at some point. True, I do drive in rush hour traffic. But, that’s not what agitates me. I am married, but she doesn’t agitate me either. What does agitate me, however, is the daily news I am reading about tort reform legislation making its way through the North Carolina General Assembly and other states across the country. I have been blogging quite a bit about this topic recently, mainly because I’m a fan of defending your rights. These tort reform measures do nothing, except to erode your rights to a jury trial and they benefit very few.

You may ask: If that’s the case, and only a very few benefit from tort reform, why is it so popular with politicians?

The answer is special interests make it popular and fund the movements with campaign contributions and PACs. Let’s take a look at Senate Bill 33, which is North Carolina’s proposed medical malpractice reform. The primary sponsor of this bill is Senator Tom Apodaca (R) from the western part of the State, and in the last fiscal quarter of 2010, Sen. Apodaca received campaign contributions from the following entities:

-Abbott Laboratories Employee PAC

-Aetna, Inc. PAC

-Alan Buerger, President of Coventry First (an insurance company)

-Buncombe County Medical Society PAC

-Carolinas Healthcare System Employees PAC

-Marsha D. Ford, M.D.

-GlaxoSmithKline PAC

-Lorillard Tobacco Company PAC

-MedCo Health Solutions, Inc. PAC

-NC Chiropractors Association, Inc. PAC

-NC College of Emergency Physicians PAC

-NC Hospital Association

-OB-GYN Political Action & Education Committee

-Pfizer PAC

-Property Casualty Insurers Association of America

-Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic PAC

-United Health Group

-Western Radiologists and Surgeons PAC

As you can see, this is a long list and it’s by no means a complete list. Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that these are just donations received in the last quarter of 2010, not the entire year.

The supporters of tort reform in this state argue that reform is best for North Carolina and it is a critical need for the citizens of this state. The North Carolina Medical Society has stated that SB 33 is, ““a thoughtful package of reasonable, common-sense improvements to state law that will improve the predictability of court cases, make liability insurance more rational, increase patient access to health care, and promote cost savings for the taxpayers of our state and nation.” But, are the sponsors of the SB 33 really looking out for the best interests of the citizens they are elected to represent when their campaigns have been funded and widely supported by insurance companies and medical special interest groups? That’s a question you have to answer for yourself.

Nationally, the same issues arise. If you’re a reader of this blog, you know that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the biggest supporters and pushers of tort reform nationally. If you are not a reader of this blog, you can learn more about this organization in my post U.S. Chamber Pot.  The Chamber touts itself as “the preeminent group in the country working to end lawsuit abuse and to ensure that businesses receive the fair, efficient, and consistent justice system they deserve.” The Chamber and others in support of tort reform argue that business suffer and therefore so do the rest of us because of outrageous lawsuits and run away verdicts.

But do they? Let’s take a look at State Farm, who is one of the largest liability insurers in the country and who also has a position on the Board of Directors for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In 2010, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company saw profits double to $1.8 billion. In 2009, they only did a paltry $800 million in profit.

Only you can decide whether the individuals pushing tort reform are looking out for your best interests as a citizen. Are they trying to improve your position in society? Or, are they trying to erode your civil liberties and constitutional rights? As you continue to listen to and educate yourself on the state and national debate on tort reform, I at least hope you will remember one thing about our elected leaders pushing for the reforms: Like a good neighbor, the insurance companies are there.

Disclaimer: The views of the author as his own. Nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice, it is provided for informational purposes only.

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