WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions highlighted the speakers at the 10th U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform Summit, held Wednesday.
Bush spoke to the role of tort reform in reshaping Florida's economy, while Sessions touched on medical malpractice reform's role in a new health care system. Sessions is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee and former attorney general of Alabama.
"Medical malpractice reform is a major issue for the health care debate," Sessions said. "I think medical malpractice reform should certainly be a part of any health care Congressional action."
Medical malpractice insurance and defensive medicine practices have been blamed for increased costs and reduced care.
A 2005 survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that 93 percent of doctors say they have practiced defensive medicine, where they perform unnecessary tests and procedures to protect them from possible civil action, so not to get caught up in a medical malpractice claim.
The American Association for Justice, formerly the American Trial Lawyers Association, started a campaign in September it said would educate lawmakers about the preventable medical errors and how tort reform won't lower costs or cover the uninsured.
Howard Dean -- a former Presidential candidate, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and physician -- said at a town hall meeting in August that lawmakers are scared of upsetting trial lawyers.
"When you go to pass a really enormous bill like that, the more stuff you put in it, the more enemies you make," Dean said.
"And the reason tort reform is not in the bill is because the people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers in addition to everybody else they were taking on, and that is the plain and simple truth."
Sessions noted that President Barack Obama had said that tort reform will not be discussed as part of the health care package. Obama has since backed off those comments and admitted something should be done about defensive medicine.
"This is one step that should never be left out," Sessions said.
Meanwhile, Bush relived his own experiences with tort reform, as he started battling the plaintiffs bar after he was elected governor in 1998.
"We beat them most of the time, not all of the time, but most of the time," he said. "I loved it. I had a good time. I love a good fight."
Bush said medical malpractice reforms enacted while he was in office -- like caps on noneconomic damages -- have begun to bear fruit.
"Medical malpractice occurred after... six special sessions in one year, but we got it done and now we're seeing declines in claims and insurance premiums for doctors," Bush said.
The doctrine of joint and several liability was also scrapped while Bush was in office.
Bush also had harsh words for Obama in response to a question from the audience.
"I think President Obama has used the bully pulpit as a way to attack capitalism," he said.
After a pause, he concluded, "That'll make the news."
ILR President Lisa Rickard presented Sessions with the ILR's 2009 Legislative Achievement Award for his efforts in the civil justice reform area.
The State Leadership Award was given to the State Chamber of Oklahoma which helped with the passage of the Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act of 2009.
The Searle Civil Justice Institute at Northwestern University School of Law was given the Research Award for its report, Consumer Arbitration Before the American Arbitration Association.
Former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor was given the Judicial Achievement Award for promoting public participation and transparency in the judicial selection process.
From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Legal Newsline is owned by the ILR.