Lawsuit Abuse Kills Hope
Last summer, the makers of small, disposable respirator masks (which sell for about $1 each) startled Congress and health care leaders when they announced that Americans might not have access to these basic medical devices in the event of a flu pandemic.
How could this small and inexpensive device suddenly be in “ominously short supply” as reported by Business Week magazine? After all, this is America. Surely, we are prepared to protect our first responders, health care workers and anyone else who might be affected in such a potentially dire situation – aren’t we?
The alarming answer is perhaps not. Instead, we could face a shortage of this important medical device because its manufacturers were caught in the nationwide epidemic of silicosis and asbestos litigation. In a two-year period, the industry suppliers of this medical device were hit with more than 300,000 lawsuits.
Fortunately, thousands of these cases have been dismissed, but the damage has been done. Manufacturers have spent millions of dollars defending or settling cases, according to Business Week magazine. Those are dollars that could have been spent making masks. And, at least one company shut down its production of these fluid-resistant masks entirely, rather than risk skyrocketing liability.
This is a clear example of how excessive, abusive litigation decreases access to needed and effective medical devices. Across the board, excessive, abusive litigation stifles medical innovation and increases the costs we pay for care.
The negative impact of excessive litigation on our health is real:
- Lawsuits and the merethreat of litigation are leading reasons why only a handful of companiesare manufacturing flu vaccines today. If the liability riskwere not so high, perhaps more companies would be making vaccines today,and we wouldn’t find ourselves dependent upon such a fragile andunreliable supply system.
- Seventy-five percent of suppliersof biomaterials – such as pacemakers and stents – have banned sales to theU.S.because they fear litigation. Eachyear, more than 7 million Americans are either saved or live much improvedlives because of these types of devices. But suppliers of these devices are disappearing.
- Asbestos-related illnesses(including cancer) are horrific, painful and often fatal. But asbestos lawsuits filed by peoplewho are not sick only make matters worse by delaying or dilutingcompensation for those who are. Onestudy has suggested that more than ninety percent of all asbestos lawsuitshave been filed by people who are not sick.
A handful of personal injury lawyers like to argue that they use the courts to “send a message” to large corporations. But, sending a message doesn’t help consumers and patients.
Lawsuit abuse doesn’t cut with a scalpel. It takes a hatchet to our entire health care system. It runs effective therapies off the market, increases costs for all of us, and creates a climate of fear that stifles medical innovation.
Lawsuit abuse kills the hope we have for a better, safer, healthier future.
But by working together to raise awareness of the cost and consequences of lawsuit abuse, by serving on juries and by encouraging those within our sphere of influence not to abuse the legal system, we can restore some balance to our courts.