Bush, who as governor of Texas made tort reform a primary objective, has encountered nothing but roadblocks in his campaign on the federal level. His most recent setback came last month when Senate Democrats prevailed in a filibuster over a proposal to cap punitive damages in medical malpractices cases at $250,000 or twice the amount of damages for medical expenses.
That hasn’t kept Bush from raising the issue at each opportunity while encouraging the recalcitrant Congress to get something done. During a press conference on July 30, Bush said in his opening remarks that Congress “needs to pass legal reforms to cut down on frivolous lawsuits that provide a drag to our economy.”
During a fund-raising trip to Houston on July 19, Bush praised the tort reform efforts of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and maintained that “medical liability reform is a national issue.” On Aug. 1, in remarks made after a meeting with his Cabinet, Bush told reporters, “We need tort reform in America so that our entrepreneurs are more likely to focus on capital formation than lawsuits – frivolous lawsuits.”
At least three states – Arkansas, Idaho and West Virginia – have passed comprehensive legislation as the result of doctors threatening to leave the state because of escalating medical malpractice insurance costs.
Attorney groups assert that reform efforts, including those on the federal level, are little more than a scam propagated by an insurance industry seeking to recoup funds lost to mismanagement.
A study conducted by the University of Buffalo Law School found that caps on non-economic loss damages unfairly penalize women, minorities and the elderly and that caps have no significant impact on insurance rates.
“The proponents of damage caps have given little or no thought to what their effects might be on the ability of injured individuals to find lawyers and gain access to the civil justice system or on whether certain groups of people will be more or less adversely affected,” said Lucinda Finley, a Buffalo law professor.