July 31, 2004

Liability Matters

Fr. Robert A. Sirico on John Edwards and trial lawyers:

Why does it matter that John Edwards has spent his career as a trial lawyer who raids deep pockets on behalf of complainants? It makes him a lifetime participant in one of the most destructive of American pastimes: litigation.

On the day that Edwards was introduced as John Kerry's running mate, I got a call from a doctor in St. Louis. He was, as you might expect, alarmed by the prospect of a trial lawyer - one of the nation's wealthiest and most powerful - becoming vice president of the United States. During the conversation, I asked him about Edwards's representation of parents who had a child born with cerebral palsy.

"Edwards made millions off crippled children by hypnotizing his juries and convincing them that cerebral palsy occurs during the birthing process," the doctor said. "There is absolutely no scientific evidence to support his contentions. But juries in America aren't usually about science, they're about theatrics. And that happens to be Edwards's forte."

He continued: In Missouri, doctors' insurance premiums have escalated 150 percent in the last three years and the state has not been able to pass meaningful medical-malpractice tort reform. Physicians in certain specialties - such as neurosurgery, obstetrics, and orthopedics - packed up and left the state after receiving a malpractice insurance bill of $500,000 on 30 days' notice. Although things are bad in St. Louis, the situation is even worse just across the Mississippi River in Madison County, Illinois. There, the doctor tells me, judicial awards in the megamillion range have attracted trial lawyers "like flies." Entire hospital departments have shut down as physicians attempt to flee to safety. Patients left behind in these communities are frequently forced to cross state lines to seek care.