President Obama's signing of the health care legislation into law has liberated the trial lawyers lobby to take credit for all the reforms it blocked. In a March 26 message to members of the American Association for Justice, AAJ President Anthony Tarricone takes a victory lap, hailing the AAJ's strategy of recasting (misrepresenting, in our view) medical liability reform as an attack on patient safety.
Tarricone states: "I am very pleased to report that the health care bill is clear of any provisions that would limit an injured patient's rights concerning medical negligence claims. While there is a provision for demonstration projects, it provides an absolute opt-out clause for plaintiffs at any time. While some states may embark on demonstration programs we find objectionable, the opt-out provision for plaintiffs minimizes this concern."
President Obama claimed the demonstration projects showed his willingness to compromise with Republicans on tort reform. But since the projects never really contemplated a serious attempt to fix liability laws, it was always an empty claim.
Tarricone lists the AAJ's victories, calling them "highlights of AAJ's efforts and the obstacles we overcame":
- In the House, AAJ defeated tort reform amendments that were offered in all three committees that amended the original bill.
- As the House voted on the health care bill in October, AAJ defeated the GOP's malpractice cap "motion to recommit," the only opportunity they had to kill the entire bill. Former AAJ Board Member, Rep. Bruce Braley, deserves special recognition for speaking in opposition to the motion amidst a vitriolic attack against trial lawyers.
- In the Senate, 28 tort reform amendments were defeated in the two committees that marked up the bill.
- On the Senate floor, AAJ decisively defeated a cap on attorney's fees by a bipartisan 32-66 vote. Many of you spent the weekend emailing and calling your members of Congress.
- AAJ unveiled one of its largest media campaigns ever - 98000Reasons.org - to educate the public and lawmakers about the 98,000 deaths that occur every year from preventable medical errors.
- In addition to print, radio and online advertising, AAJ bought all the billboard space in the Union Station subway for the month of December, specifically targeting Senate staffers who use that station for their daily commute.
- AAJ staff, officers, and members did hundreds of interviews and letters to the editor submissions, reaching print and broadcast outlets nationwide. Thousands of messages were sent to members of Congress through AAJ's grassroots portal.
For all that activity, the lobbying and PR campaign by the trial lawyers received relatively little news coverage.