"Tort reform" is a deception, a euphemism for limiting compensation to individuals for damages done to them by corporations and negligent professionals, such as in medical malpractice. The rationale most commonly given for tort reform is that it will reduce costs that corporations ultimately pass along to their customers.
That sounds good on face value, but, in the absence of hard evidence that actually supports these claims, it takes on more of an Orwellian nature. Instead of benefitting the consumer by lowering insurance premiums, tort reform actually hurts consumers by removing corporate accountability for malpractice.
A prime example of tort reform comes from Texas, which severely limited non-economic damage awards in 2003. To people like Connie Spears, a Texas resident whose misdiagnosis resulted in the loss of both of her legs above the knee, the result is financially devastating.
Unfortunately, the routine and yet remarkably dangerous arguments for tort reform are once again making the rounds among select Arizona politicians. State senator and aspiring gubernatorial candidate Al Melvin, R-Tucson frequently lauds the Texas tort-reform law, adding that after its passage "doctors started arriving and business flourished."
A recent study shows this is just not true: Texas' doctor supply did not increase after passage of tort reform. The data is so overwhelming that the source of Melvin's claim, Ted Frank, issued a retraction a year ago. This has not stopped Melvin from continuing to propagate the lie, because this fight is not about the truth. It is about corporate power and greed.
Arizona voters have rejected constitutional amendments for tort reform three times. And yes, we will continue to be browbeaten with tort reform by groups that act as fronts for big corporations.
The most prominent include the ever-present, extremely well-funded, ultraconservative American Legislative Exchange Council and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They are part of the same coalition that wants to convince the American people that our public schools should be privatized, that we can't afford access to health care for the poor, that the wealthy should pay less in taxes and that government is just too big.
The pattern is all too clear, the conclusion unmistakable: The balance of power between our public government and giant private corporations is shifting more and more toward the corporations. Government is being weakened to the point that it will no longer protect America's infrastructure and our most basic individual rights.
As long as Arizonans continue to elect those who place corporate interests above the common good, tort reform will continue to threaten and undermine the essential democratic value of a jury verdict. And that translates to a fundamental loss of freedom for all Arizonans.
Jo Holt is a retired biochemist and chairwoman of the Legislative District 11 Democratic Committee. She lives in Oro Valley and was a candidate for state Senate in 2012. Grant Winston is an attorney and resides in LD11.