www.SickOfLawsuits.org Web Chat
U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX)
October 27, 2005, 2:15pm ET
Sen. Cornyn: Welcome to today's Sick of Lawsuits Web chat and thanks to everyone who has joined us. I've been looking forward to taking your questions and talking with you about your ideas and potential legislation that will curb the impact of frivilous litigation on the healthcare system. I have been a proponent of civil justice reform for years, first as state attorney general and a state Supreme Court justice in Texas, and now as a U.S. Senator. I have also seen first-hand the price that all Americans are paying for abusive lawsuits, especially in regard to our healthcare system. Costs for care are rising, access to care is diminishing, and litigation fears are driving medicines off the market and halting important research. We must find meaningful and lasting solutions to protect our healthcare system from lawsuit abuse. On that note, let's take our first question.
Richard__Framingham, MA: How realistic is it to expect a Congress that is composed of a high percentage of lawyers to enact reforms? Not only would it be against their personal interests, if they leave Congress, but they accept huge amounts of campaign funds from legal circles.
Sen. Cornyn: Dear Richard - Not all lawyers are the same. Many believe, as I do, that our civil justice system cries out for reform, and serves the interests of a few, at the expense of the many. This is not a task for the short-winded. This year, however, we have passed Class Action Reform, Bankruptcy Reform, Gun Manufacturers Liability Reform, and I have introduced several other measures that would help, including the GIVE Act, which would provide a measure of protection to volunteers, including professionals, who come to the aid of their fellow citizens.
Jim__Gainesville, FL: Would you agree that lawyer advertising is one of the problems? The liberal Supreme Court held that Bar Associations limiting advertising were violating the right of free speech. With that decision, lawsuits skyrocketed.
Sen. Cornyn: Dear Jim - Irresponsible personal injury lawyer advertising is a major problem and feeds lawsuit abuse. Misleading claims used in some of these ads can scare people into thinking they have been injured and filing a lawsuit, when in fact they may not be hurt. To this point, a recent poll commissioned by Sick of Lawsuits found that an overwhelming 79% of Americans believe that advertising by personal injury lawyers encourages people to sue even if they have not been injured.
Judy__RoundRock, TX: How much does abusive litigation contribute to health care costs and how much lower would health insurance premiums be without punitive premiums that enrich corrupt trial lawyers at the expense of consumers and the health care industry?
Sen. Cornyn: Dear Judy - A lot. Obviously there are direct costs to healthcare providers such as liability insurance premiums, which they pass along to their patients. But there are also unnecessary tests and other defensive medical practices that drive up the costs as well. We need doctors making decisions based on their best medical judgment, not on the basis of risk-aversion.
Donna__Allentown, PA: What can physicians and those who advocate for medical liability reform do to help you achieve the 60 votes for cloture needed in the US Senate to pass the HEALTH Act? And how close ARE we to reaching those 60 votes?
Sen. Cornyn: Dear Donna - As you know, under Senate rules, 60 votes are needed to close off debate. We are only a few votes away from achieving this goal. One of the most important things you can do - as a physician, a healthcare professional, patient, parent, consumer - is to make your voice heard. Write your Members of Congress and let them know how important this issue is to you on a personal level. Tell them how frivolous lawsuits have affected the practice of medicine and how this piece of legislation will help you, your colleagues and the overall healthcare system.
Jon__Doylestown, PA: In every state (including PA) and national poll, at least 70% of the people are in favor of tort reform, including caps on pain and suffering awards. With such a wide margin of support, why is it so hard to pass tort reform?
Sen. Cornyn: Dear Jon - As you note, there is broad support, across the country, for tort reform. Many states like my home state of Texas have been leaders in this movement. Unfortunately, a state-by-state solution isn't sufficient to address the needs of businesses that operate across many states, or across the 50 states. Therefore, we need tort reform at the national level. You will note in my answer to a previous question that the 60-vote requirement in the Senate creates a threshold we have not been able to overcome on more than a handful of occasions. We have been successful in areas like Class Action, Gun Liability, and Bankruptcy Reform, and we keep trying in other areas as well.
John__Cordova, TX: Will you use the history of asbestos lawsuits as an example? Some 70 companies bankrupt and it has not been required to prove damages.
Sen. Cornyn: Dear John - Some have said that when it comes to asbestos, we don't need tort reform alone, we need scandal reform. The plaintiffs, without objective evidence of impairment are bankrupting companies, leaving those with true injuries from asbestos to recover pennies on the dollar in bankruptcy court. Also, it is widely acknowledge that radiologists hired by plaintiffs' lawyers vastly overstate evidence of exposure and injury. In my home state, we have passed a medical criteria bill which makes sure that only the truly injured can go to court, first, leaving those with exposure but no impairment to pursue their claims if and when they actually become ill.
Sen. Cornyn: Thank you to everyone who joined today's Web chat. There were a lot of great questions, and I enjoyed speaking with you. One of the most important things you can do to stop lawsuit abuse is get involved through writing to your state and local representatives, joining local and national advocacy groups, and learning more about the issues through forums such as these. I hope you will choose to get involved and work with myself and other Members of Congress to meaningfully and creatively address the problems of abusive litigation on our healthcare. That is all I have time for today, but it has been a pleasure to join you this afternoon. For more information on these and other issues, please visit my website at www.cornyn.senate.gov.