Georgia Civil Justice Foundation Launches Values Based Access to Justice Campaign

To view the Georgia Civil Justice Foundation's new series, click here.

Cross-posted from Tort Deform: The Civil Justice Defense Blog

by Nina Mason

If you're reading this blog, you probably already know the truth about tort reform. You probably already know that powerful special interests looking to reduce financial liability by promising a cure for "lawsuit abuse" (a spin-born ailment). And you probably already know that they're doing pretty well. Between 1986 and 2004, more than 38 states passed some form of legislation aimed at civil justice "reform."

Shortly after Georgia passed sweeping tort reform in 2005, the Georgia Civil Justice Foundation came to Crane MetaMarketing, the firm I've been working for, wondering: how do we get the voters to care about this?

How indeed? I read Lakoff. I read everything I could get my hands on about tort reform. I read what the other advocacy groups and the trial lawyers were saying about tort reform. But the response campaign seemed to be falling on deaf ears. Voters were still looking the other way while legislators in state after state shook hands on the deal. In focus groups, we found that the public could recite negative frames like "clogged courts" and "lawsuit lottery," but they couldn't apply these abstractions to actual cases. Still, it seemed that fighting the frames was futile. The facts were out there, but they were bouncing off without challenging the validity of the negative frames (you have probably noticed this happening!)

What we needed was a whole new frame. We needed a concept that would link deeply held values with civil justice. We needed a frame that would trigger a positive, values-based conversation about American civil justice to help the unengaged public grasp what's really at stake.

To get things started, we developed a metaphor that evokes a foundational American ideal: fair play. In the narrative, civil justice acts as a "compass" that helps us as a nation locate "due north"--an agreed upon code of acceptable ethical and moral principles and behaviors. The compass metaphor describes the function of civil justice for all citizens (and American society), and provides a non-partisan frame to equip audiences to sniff out the fear-based rhetoric.

The narrative needed a voice that could break through the fog of public apathy and simulated "frames"--while hooking founding values. So we used pithy writing, humor, and animation to illustrate the concepts and hired Alexander Hamilton as our narrator (luckily, he was willing to work pro bono!).

The first three animations in the series can be viewed at www.fairplay.org (along with whitepapers and annotated links in topical resource centers that enable varying levels of learning).  Fair Play, the first (click on Hamilton to launch it), introduces the compass metaphor and describes the role civil justice plays in American society. All are "narrated" by Hamilton, but different topics are "hosted" by different founders. (John Adams hosts "Impartial Judges" and Ben Franklin hosts "Adversarial Process.") More topics and more founders will appear in the next few weeks!  The first series includes seven animations.

Did we succeed? You tell me.

Feedback and client referrals are more than welcome Nina Mason (nmjustice4all@hotmail.com).

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Obama's Civil Justice Related "C"

Cross-posted from Tort Deform: The Civil Justice Defense Blog

Over on the Tortellini there's an excellent post on the questionable access to justice credentials of the rising Democratic star Barack Obama. I might also note that Obama got a "C" on the Drum Major Institute'sMiddle-Class Scorecard in large part because of his support for the ironically labeled Class Action Fairness Act of 2005.

The Tortellini post is excerpted below, and my previous commentary on the Class Action Fairness Act is here:
The Top Seven Bad Things About the Class Action "Fairness" Act, Top Three Misconceptions on Which the Class Action "Fairness" Act is Based, The Top (and only) Two Good Things About the Class Action "Fairness" Act


Obama's anti-consumer vote

As Obama-mania sweeps across the land and has Democrats everywhere buzzing, I find myself a bit wary of it all. Not that I'm a single-issue voter, but when it comes to civil justice issues, Illinois senator Barack Obama is a bust. His willingness to buy the corporate line about class action "reform" last year prevents me from joining the hallelujah chorus.

The 2005 Class Action Fairness Act (CAFA), a pet cause of George W. Bush, essentially forced most state consumer class actions into the backlogged and Republican dominated federal courts. Like the bankruptcy bill before it, class action reform was a special interest extravaganza, with the insurance, credit card, banking, pharmaceutical and auto industries hiring so many lobbyists that there was nearly one for every member of Congress. (You can read more about some of the chicanery involved in selling CAFA in my book.) (keep reading)

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After Being Run Out Of 3 States, Doctor Granted Refuge In Texas

Cross-posted from Tort Deform: The Civil Justice Defense Blog by Alex Winslow, Executive Director of Texas Watch

After Being Run Out Of 3 States, Doctor Granted Refuge In Texas
Texas Medical Board Should Repeal License of Dangerous Doctor

Dr. Pamela L. Johnson was forced out of three states after questions arose about her skills.  But, after promising to protect patients in the wake of so-called tort "reform" the Texas Medical Board recently gave her a license to practice medicine in Texas.  So much for the promise of strict oversight and vigorous licensure standards. Instead, our state is becoming the nation's dumping ground for dangerous doctors.

This should serve as a wake up call for other states who are thinking about imposing Texas-style tort "reform" on its patients.

According to the Washington Post, Dr. Johnson, an obstetrician/gynecologist, has had her medical license suspended in both Virginia and New Mexico, and was fired by Duke University Medical School in North Carolina after officials questioned her surgical skills.  The Post has also reported that six separate families have filed malpractice claims against Johnson.

Now, Dr. Johnson has set up shop in Texas.  This makes one wonder: Are doctors from around the country seeking refuge in the Lone Star state?  Is Texas becoming the dumping ground for our nation's bad doctors?  Could this happen in other states who shield bad doctors from responsibility?  Sadly, the answer to all of these questions is, "You bet!".

In a letter to the Texas Medical Board, I implored the Medical Board to reconsider its decision to grant Dr. Johnson a license to practice medicine in our state.  Granting physicians of Dr. Johnson's ilk and background a license to practice medicine, sends the wrong message to patients and - even worse - threatens patient safety.  The Texas Medical Board claims that its mission is to "protect and enhance the public's health, safety and welfare ... ." Allowing doctors like Pamela Johnson into our state does nothing to fulfill this mission.

Not only does this threaten to endanger Texas patients, it also tarnishes the licenses of all Texas physicians.  As Public Citizen has reported, just 5.4% of all doctors commit 56.2% of the nation's medical malpractice.  If our standards are not high enough to keep doctors with a track record of negligence and incompetence out of our state, then how can the licensure process be taken seriously?

It remains to be seen whether or not the Texas Medical Board will continue to thumb its nose at the needs of Texas patients by serving as a rubber stamp for unqualified doctors or if it will reject Dr. Johnson's application.  One thing is clear though: patients need real legal reforms that include stronger safety standards and stiffer accountability measures.

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Senator Lott Learns The Importance of Suing

Cross-posted from Tort Deform: The Civil Justice Defense Blog

By Laurie Gindin Beacham, Communications Director & Joanne Doroshow, Executive Director, of the Center for Justice & Democracy

Sometimes an issue doesn't hit home until one's home is hit.  That appears to be the case for new Republican Senate Whip Senator Trent Lott (R-Miss.). The Senator's Mississippi beachfront home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina last year, and he's been fighting with State Farm, his home insurance company, ever since. State Farm has refused to pay for damage to Lott's house, so Lott has joined legions of other Katrina victims who are in the same boat.  He has sued his insurance company.

The fact that devastated Katrina victims have been forced to go to court against their insurance carriers may be surprising enough for many Americans.  But the fact that their ranks have been joined by a conservative U.S. Senator, former Republican Senate leader and new Whip, and an outspoken critic of those who file lawsuits, is somewhat mind-boggling.  Lott used to say derogatory things about those who go to court, like, "The Democrats seem to think that the answer is a lawsuit. Sue everybody...,""It's sue, sue, sue ... That's not the answer," and "I'm among many Mississippi citizens who believe tort reform is needed." 

But he has a different focus now.  Now, Senator Lott has not only filed his own suit but also talks about "insensitivity and outright meanness" of insurers, saying, "They have abused my people, my friends, the people I love." 

U.S. Senator Trent Lott, it seems, may have seen the light.
 

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Did Texas Lose Physicians in 2006? Is Tort Reform to Blame?

Cross-posted from Tort Deform: The Civil Justice Defense Blog

by Professor Charles Silver

Tort reformers argue that Texas lost physicians before it curtailed patients' rights in 2003 and gained them rapidly thereafter.  The Texas Alliance for Patient Access (TAPA) and the Texas Medical Association (TMA) have asserted this repeatedly, as has Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Statistics compiled by the Texas Department of Health (TDH) do not support their claims.  TDH's numbers show that Texas' physician population grew more slowly in 2004 and 2005 than in the years before tort reform.  They also show that Texas lost 514 direct patient care physicians in 2006.  The 2006 decline is the first in 17 years.  Given the eagerness with which tort reformers take credit for every new doctor who arrives in the state, it is tempting to chalk up this reversal of fortunes to them as well.

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