Tort Reform: Where the 2012 Presidential Candidates Stand--Mitt Romney

Viewers of the televised debates between candidates seeking the republican nomination for president of the United States have heard a lot of talk over the past few months from the seven men, and one woman left standing in a contest that has become at once a contentious melodrama, and at times a silly, gaffe-prone side show, to win over the hearts and minds of American voters.

In the span of twelve weeknights, 90-minute prime-time broadcasts, the American people, in ever-increasing - record-breaking -- numbers, have been treated to an alternating colloquy of like-minded opinions and dissimilar diatribes from the GOP hopefuls on a whole host of topics, ranging everywhere from discourses on late-term abortion to the wars in the Middle East.

As a website devoted to the protection of every individual's civil rights in this country, we thought it might be a good idea at this stage in the debate process to share with our readers a little background on each candidates position with respect to where they stand on a subject near and dear to our hearts. Namely, tort reform.

We will begin by examining the record of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who many pundits believe is the clear front-runner, and a virtual shoe-in to be on the GOP ticket in 2012.

But we would like to start first by stating our unequivocal position on the subject.

One of the most important features of our American medical malpractice justice system is to encourage doctors and hospitals to deliver safe care. And when they don't, they deserve to face a jury of their peers, and if found guilty to be punished to the full extent of the law. It is a proven fact that when holding health care providers accountable, the current liability system results in fewer malpractice events and higher quality care. By simply focusing on reducing the cost of malpractice insurance, health care providers would not be motivated enough to adopt safer healthcare delivery systems and more people would be injured and killed as a result of negligence.

And the U.S. Congress seems to agree. Pending approval of recent legislation, Congress has authorized $50 million for states and health care systems to test new approaches to the resolution of medical-injury disputes.According to a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine, this authorization would supplement the $23 million that the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) awarded in 2010 for projects to advance new approaches to medical-injury compensation and patient safety.

Evidence, not opinion or spin, shows that all attempts to limit awards or reduce attorney fees have not yielded improvement in health care. Today, the pressing need to improve quality and efficiency in health care mandates that any liability reform also is evaluated on the basis of clinically relevant metrics, not, as the opponents of tort reform like Mr. Romney would have it, to simply increase insurance industry profitability and place caps on damages and thereby reduce the incentive for doctors and hospitals to practice safe medicine.

Now for Mr. Romney's position. Here's a recent quote by the candidate:

"Another burden on our economic future is our out-of-control tort system. Last year, U.S. healthcare corporations spent more money on tort claims than they did on R&D. If innovation is the key to our long-term leadership, then some tort lawyers are cashing out of our country's future. I spoke with one member of the plaintiff's bar the other day. He said that the tort lawyers are ok with state reform, but not national reform. You know what state-level tort reform means - it means that as long as there is one lawsuit-friendly state, they can sue almost any major, deep-pocketed company in America. No thanks, America needs national tort reform."

From his 1994 Senate race to his gubernatorial campaign in 2002, and throughout his four years as Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney was a strong proponent of tort reform. As governor, he supported capping personal injury claims in automobile-related cases, and he advocated for overhauling Massachusetts' medical malpractice system.

During his gubernatorial campaign, Mitt Romney supported capping punitive damages to replace the unlimited status quo. In 2003, Romney also supported a bill to cap non-economic awards at $500,000, arguing at a rally organized by the Massachusetts Medical Society, "If we have in place policies which drive physicians away, which drive costs spiraling out of control, we can't attract jobs, we can't have a better future for our kids and the families that want to live here. We need reform now." In May of 2006, the Romney administration issued a specific tort reform proposal, calling for:"Closing loopholes in the $500,000 cap on non-economic damages which allowed lawyers to win excessive damages."

Andrew Levine
Andrew J. Levine is a partner at Raphaelson & Levine Law Firm, in New York, NY. A graduate of Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University. For 15 years he has been widely trusted and respected as a formidable attorney but acknowledged as a reasonable and ethical collaborator who impresses clients, judges and jurors alike. Andrew has been featured in New York Magazine as one of New York’s “Top Personal Injury Litigators” and recognized by Super Lawyers as a “Top Rated Personal Injury Attorney in New York.”
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