Rep. Mabra: Bill will take away patients’ right to sue

As a state representative and an attorney, I have the unique privilege of representing Georgians at both the Capitol and in the courtroom.

And whether I am fighting to obtain justice for a client or advocating for Georgians’ rights under the Gold Dome, one thing remains constant: I always act in the best interest of those whom I have the honor of representing.

It is not often that the two intersect, but a proposal currently under consideration before our legislature poses an immediate and potentially disastrous threat to not only my clients and my constituents, but to every citizen of the state of Georgia.

A bill known as the “Patient Injury Act” has been introduced in the Georgia General Assembly, and I have some very serious concerns about the impact that this legislation would have on our state if it were signed into law.

At its very core, this bill seeks to eliminate Georgia patients’ constitutional right to trial by jury when they have been harmed by their healthcare provider, and instead replace our time-tested civil jury system with a taxpayer-funded government panel.

As an attorney who has had the privilege of representing innocent victims of medical malpractice in the courtroom before a jury of their fellow citizens, I find this to be wholly unacceptable.

Our right to trial by jury, which is enshrined in the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and reaffirmed in Paragraph XI of the Constitution of the state of Georgia, is as important to ensuring the continuance of our just society as any guarantee set forth in our founding documents.

This right is, in my mind, the great equalizer – an opportunity for all individuals, regardless of their standing in society, to seek justice before an unbiased jury of their fellow citizens on a level playing field.

In fact, the authors of our state’s Constitution believed so strongly in this right that they even went a step further than the framers of the U.S. Constitution, writing that the right to trial by jury shall remain “inviolate” – leaving very little room for the erosion of this promise.

Through my studies of both the law and the Constitution, I am absolutely certain that this legislation would be held to be an unconstitutional violation of the right to trial by jury.

I hear from constituents in my district each and every day about the crippling costs of the healthcare system in our country. Unfortunately, the proponents of this measure have taken advantage of these all-too-familiar anxieties by falsely and misleadingly presenting their bill as the silver bullet to solve expensive healthcare. This is shameful exploitation, and their claims simply could not be further from the truth.

Take, for example, the fact that the frequency of medical malpractice payments on behalf of doctors and the sum of these payments have fallen every single year over the past decade.

In addition, while national healthcare costs have risen 58 percent over the last 10 years, malpractice payments fell 29 percent over that same period. Even if you were to eliminate the entire medical liability system in America, you would achieve savings of only one-half of 1 percent of all healthcare costs.

And yet, they want you to believe that it is the victims of medical malpractice who are driving up the cost of healthcare.

The “Patient Injury Act” will not be effective in holding negligent healthcare providers accountable for the harm that they do to Georgia patients, and it will not have a deterrent effect on healthcare costs in our state.

In fact, this bill levies a brand new tax on doctors, dentists, nurses and hospitals that could amount to nearly $50 million just to pay for the costs of their new system alone.

While I do not support taking away Georgia citizens’ constitutional right to trial by jury in order to achieve the phantom savings associated with this bill, I do believe that we must take a serious look at common-sense solutions to ensure that healthcare coverage is a realistic and affordable option for all Georgians. This bill does not belong in that conversation.

Let’s go back to the drawing board. My constituents, clients and fellow Georgians all deserve better.

Ronnie Mabra
State Representative
House District 63
South Fulton, north Fayette, and south Clayton counties

[Rep. Mabra lives in Fayetteville.]

websterptc
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Tort Reform

This is exactly the response I would expect from a lawyer. Heartfelt concern for the rights of the downtrodden. How touching. Not the least concern for how it would affect her income. No doubt a plaintiff attorney. There is successful legislation in many states that want to reel in the out-of-control legal system that has been evolving. Plaintiff attorneys know that all they need to do is file a suit and the costs to the defendant take off exponentially. Because the costs to defend yourself are so extensive, defendants often settle. Not because they have any liability, but because it is cheaper than extended litigation.
Why have healthcare costs skyrocketed? About 15% of those expenses are related to litigation. The possible decisions of a runaway jury combined with the massive liability of malpractice insurance are the prime mover. Much of the testing and procedures doctors engage in are to protect themselves from possible legal action. If that were not hanging over their heads doctors would only be doing what needed to be done. And costs would drop precipitously. As of 2010, malpractice insurance could run from $10,000 to $100,000 annually, depending on the state.
The single best solution, if we wanted to keep it simple, is a loser pays system. Then, if Rep Mabra files a bogus suit against me just to try and get a settlement, but goes to court and loses her client is responsible for all my legal expenses. That would rightfully chill the boatloads of unjustified litigation we how face. Currently, if I am sued, spend $300,00 to defend my self and win, I actually lose. $300,000!
The Democratic congress refused to address this in the "Affordable" Care Act, claiming they would deal with it in another bill. It will never happen because the trial lawyers association pours millions into Democratic campaigns. Roughly 1 in 14 doctors are sued every year for malpractice. And doctors are far from the only ones having to deal with this injustice. It is about time Georgia did the right thing.

SPQR
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Webster

Flip side

In the majority of cases the best legal team wins out. If I am legitimately and seriously harmed by a malpractice incident I would probably be hesitant to seek redress knowing I could well be financially wiped out.

websterptc
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That is exactly the problem.

That is exactly the problem. You, the plaintiff, have a choice. I, the defendent, have no choices but to defend myself. You file the case and I am on the hook. When the case is bogus and the jury votes in my favor I am still stuck with the costs. Loser pays should have a chilling effect on illegitimate lawsuits. If you have a just cause and lose; welcome to the experience of defendent after defendent! Too many juries decide based on emotion instead of the facts. If you are counting on emotion to win you should get stuck with my costs. My wife has been a defense attorney for 30 years. The abuses and injustices she has witnessed would blow anyone's mind. The system is long overdo for reform.

SPQR
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Webster/PTCO

I totally agree there is a problem. But if legitimate malpractice cases come up against deep pocketed insurance companies the strategy will quickly become one of intimidation. In the real world those with the most money usually come out on top.

Whatever the fix it shouldn't prevent bonafide cases coming to trial out of fear of retribution

PTC Observer
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SPQR - Totally

Totally agree with you SPQR. I say let the market take care of it. If an attorney believes that his/her client has a genuine case then they won't have a problem taking the case. They would share the risk reward of losing/winning.

PTC Observer
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SPQR - Indeed

That's the whole point, good representation is drawn to those with good cases. As opposed to lawsuits brought merely to extract money from defendants that look at the litigation costs vs. "settling" even when they know they are innocent. it's simply a rational decision based on costs, not based on remedy.

In my opinion, those that want to sue should pay if they lose. However, this reform will never happen in our lifetime because an entire industry is built on the current system. So much for tort reform.

Remember, all of these "settlements" cost all of us in higher prices for insurance.

Have you heard the one about the guy that is suing the NFL because of high ticket prices for the Super Bowl Garme? Well I can almost guarantee you that this suit will be settled out of court and ticket prices will continue to be high. This is the type of "case" that would be eliminated by tort reform.

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