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A Crisis in the Courts of America

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


A CRISIS IN THE COURTS OF AMERICA -- (House of Representatives - October 06, 2005)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 4, 2005, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Carter) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the majority leader.

Mr. CARTER. Madam Speaker, I rise this evening to talk about an ongoing crisis that is in this country, a crisis in the courts of America. People are using the third branch of this government as an abusive form of receiving money from the court system, in many instances just because they file a lawsuit. People are using the courts of America to intimidate others out of their constitutional rights because of the expense of litigation. Most importantly, and what I rise today for, they are driving the medical profession into the ground.

Madam Speaker, I have spent 21 years of my life working with fine lawyers in a courtroom. I have seen the courtroom and how things work in the courtroom change substantially in that 21 years on the bench as a trial judge in Texas.

The courts were designed for people to seek recourse when they were damaged. The courts were designed to grant fairness to all parties involved. The courts were not designed to use the economic expense of litigation to force people to settle lawsuits or to force people to pay money. They were designed for a fair presentation of the evidence and a fair decision to be rendered by the trier of facts and the trier of the law.

Yet, today, in modern society, we see in every area courts being used to try to force someone to do something contrary to their best interests, to pay when, in reality, the only reason they are paying is because, quite frankly, it is cheaper than fighting the litigation, cheaper for insurance claims to be settled, because it is easier to settle an accident than actually stand up for what is right. We see this, and if the spotlight is placed upon this, we see what it is doing to our medical profession.

Madam Speaker, we love to all sit around and reminisce about the old country doctor who would actually make house calls. The doctor that would make a house call with a little black bag today probably ought to be seriously examined for being crazy, because if all he brings is the resources of that bag to make that house call, surely there is a lawyer some place that is going to sue him for something because he said he did not do the right thing. So what is happening to our legal profession?

In many instances, doctors will tell us, unnecessary tests are being required of our patients. The cost of our medical care in this country is skyrocketing not because maybe that doctor thinks he may know what is wrong with that patient, but he also wants to make sure that he has that MRI and that CAT scan on record to confirm what his diagnosis is. Why? Because of the trial lawyers standing outside the door, ready to sue him for the slightest thing because he thinks he can prove that that test was not right.

Madam Speaker, we have women in south Texas that cannot find a baby doctor to deliver their baby and cannot find a pediatrician to care for their baby when it is born. Patients in south Texas cannot find a neurologist or a neurosurgeon when someone has been in a car wreck and has a brain injury and desperately needs someone that can treat them, either a neurologist or a neurosurgeon. There are people that are being hauled all the way from the Rio Grande Valley, Brownsville, and McAllen, all the way to San Antonio to try to find a neurologist that will take care of a serious, serious case.

Madam Speaker, this is a crisis in America. I am just looking at Texas. But this is not just new to Texas; this is all over the country. There are multiple States that are in crisis when it comes to medical liability. Tonight, I am up here and I am joined by many of my colleagues to talk about H.R. 5, the Help Efficient, Assessible, Low-cost, Timely Health Care Act of 2005 entitled HEALTH. This is sponsored by my colleague, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey), a medical doctor and a good friend from the State of Georgia, and I am sure that he will join us here in just a little while. Right now, he is with the Committee on Rules, and that is why he is not the first one to talk, because he is the doctor.

But he will tell us, as I will tell my colleagues and my colleagues will tell us, this crisis in America is causing skyrocketing medical costs, unfair jury verdicts and judgments against the doctors of this country and causing doctors to say, I am not doing this anymore.

Madam Speaker, when we drive out the people who are there to protect our lives, when we drive them away with these frivolous and sometimes onerous, most of the time onerous lawsuits, we are driving away people that are there to save our lives. Nobody asks when they are dragged into the emergency room after a terrible car wreck where the jaws of life have pried them out of the car, they do not ask, where is my lawyer, they are looking for a doctor. Yet, I have talked personally with emergency room surgeons, and they tell me that their profession is getting thinner and thinner and thinner every day. In fact, most of the people that still are willing to go and be emergency room surgeons are the guys who love to live on the edge with that adrenaline rush, because they certainly are not doing it because they feel safe. They deal constantly with the fear of a lawsuit because they did the right thing to save a life.

Doctors deliver babies. That is what we all expect. We want a doctor to be there with our wonderful spouse when they give us the gift of a child. Why do we want that doctor there? We want that doctor there to make sure that child is healthy and to make sure that birth is as successful as possible and make sure mama comes home with the baby. Yet, with the amount of lawsuits that are attacking our OBGYNs in America, more and more of our outstanding doctors are finding something else to do.

Madam Speaker, this is a crisis in America. The gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey), the sponsor of H.R. 5, I believe offers us the solution to that crisis. I see that he has joined us, and I am going to yield to him to talk to us about this issue.

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Mr. CARTER. Madam Speaker, I thank the congresswoman for her comments. The congresswoman is always willing to stand up for the people in her district and talk about the people of her district, and she never fails to tell us a story about the people in her district.

I want to tell my colleagues a couple of stories. I want to tell my colleagues, in 21 years on the bench, I have seen an awful lot of people who really have the attitude that suing people is kind of a profession. I want to tell my colleague true stories, and these are both absolutely true stories, but I am not going to use the people's names because, as far as I know, they are both still alive. Hey, I do not know, they might even be watching.

I have this one friend that I worked with many years ago down in the Texas legislature when I was working for the staff down at the legislature as a young lawyer. When I talk about this, I am a lawyer and practiced law for about 12 years before I went on the bench. So I am not picking on lawyers here.

But anyway, I used to go deer hunting with this fellow, called him Joe, and about 10 years later, I ran into him kind of on the street. I said, hey, Joe, what is going on; what are you doing? He said, oh, I got me a job. I said, what do you do? He said, I am a suer. I said, a what? I thought he works for the sewer, is that what he said? He said no, I am a suer. I said, what in the world is a suer? He said, I get out in my old car out on the highway, slam on my brakes and somebody runs into the back of me; I slap a collar around my neck and I sue him. I thought he was joking. I laughed. I thought that was a funny thing for a fellow to say, until I ran into a guy that I knew who knew him well, and he said, no, well, that is what he does. That is what he does.

That is an attitude about our court system that has got to change, and it has got to change. If necessary, we have to turn this world around. That is why juries go crazy on these verdicts.

I will tell my colleagues another story.

Mr. GINGREY. Madam Speaker, if the gentleman would yield before he starts that next story, the point the gentleman is making, and I think it is a good one, is that in this current climate, it is easier to sue your doctor than to see your doctor. Clearly, there is something wrong with that picture.

Mr. CARTER. Absolutely, absolutely. You have to stand in line a lot longer to see him than to sue him.

This other fellow, friend of mine, was a cigarette smoker, and this was back many years ago. He was sitting there. He is a prolific reader. He said, I have decided how I am going to retire as soon as I get out of college. This was back when I was in college. I said, okay, John, how are you going to retire? He said, well, I read an article that said that the reason people smoke is because they were weaned too soon. He said, so I smoke three packs of cigarettes a day. At that time cigarettes cost about 35 cents a pack. He would get rich today on his plan. He said, so I have added up how many packages of cigarettes I think I am going to smoke in my lifetime, and I happen to know the reason my mother weaned me soon is because her doctor gave her that advice. He said, so I am going to sue my mother and my doctor because I smoke. He said, and I think I can get $1 million out of that deal, by the way, by my calculation.

That was a joke, but it does underlie how people view the court systems and the lawsuits that people perceive that can be heard. Now we are having people wanting to sue hamburger people for obesity. They are wanting to sue schools for the vending machines that are in the schools, and of course, they are suing the doctors for everything under the sun. It is amazing. It is absolutely amazing.

I think what we will do here is let us just open this up to a general discussion. Let us first let the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey) talk a little bit about this bill, and then the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Murphy) wants to talk about some stuff.

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Mr. CARTER. Add future medical care. By my understanding, this bill does not limit any amount of medical care that has already been expended nor any projected needs in medical care in the future including, as you say, rehabilitation. Even mental health issues could be addressed. If there is proof of the necessity, this can be carried forward, and it is not limiting it.

It is that undefinable pain and suffering issue that can allow people to break the bank at Monte Carlo with their judgment and get $1 billion in that category.

A billion dollars has been awarded in the past. Many times multimillions of dollars have been awarded for pain and suffering. That is the issue. That is the real issue in a nutshell.

Something needs to be mentioned here. We have had a lot of doctors come in here, and some people watching might be thinking, of course, these doctors are in the business; of course they want to do this. Well, these doctors are not in the business. These doctors have left the practice of medicine to come to Congress. And I think in many instances they came to Congress because they had a voice that needed to be heard on many issues, including this issue here.

I know I have become very close with many of the doctors, the gentleman from Georgia (Mr. Gingrey) being the prime example, and they are here because they care about multiple issues affecting their people back home, and they are here to represent all of the people of their State. They are no longer practicing physicians, so they are not doing this because they are reaching into their pocketbooks, but they are doing this because they know there is an abuse here that needs to be rectified, and this stands for the Senate as well as the House. These doctors do not practice their profession while they are serving in the Congress.

Mr. GINGREY. If the gentleman will yield on that point. Clearly, as the gentleman from Texas points out, there are those of us that you have met here this evening who are health care professionals in our former life but now are Members of Congress. And while we know of individual anecdotal cases, maybe friends of ours who have got a problem in regard to a frivolous lawsuit or something, what is more important now is for us to have a view from 30,000 feet, as the expression would go. Because as my colleague, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Carter) points out, we have an obligation and a duty to every patient-citizen, 285 million in this country, and not just the 630,000 or so in our congressional districts or the doctors who we practiced with when we were in that profession.

So my colleague is absolutely right. We have to look at that big picture.

Mr. CARTER. If the gentleman will yield back for a moment. As we talk about lawsuit abuse, right now we are talking about doctors, but you can talk to your small businessman and ask him what he pays for the insurance coverage because of liability factors that influence whatever business he is in. He can be in the manufacturing business, he can be a consultant, he can be an engineer, an architect, or a lawyer. There is not a small businessman or a profession in America that is not facing the possibility of frivolous lawsuits that can cause them major damage in their business.

In fact, lawsuits have become a tool of competition in America today in the business community. There are people and organizations who actually try to drive a person out of business by filing frivolous lawsuits against them, knowing it will cost them $25,000 to $50,000 to defend them. They come back and they come back and they come back again, and, thus, ultimately, the small businessman finally throws up his hands and says, I cannot pay these attorneys fees any more. My insurance people will not cover me any more, and so I am getting out of this business. That is happening. It probably happened in this Nation while I was talking tonight.

Fair redress is what we ought to have in the courts; fair disputes settled between two parties. But using the court as a weapon to direct people, whether it be in business, in politics, or in a profession, is wrong.

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Mr. CARTER. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding and for his comments. What we are talking about tonight is a climate that has developed over a long period of time in our court system. It is a climate which was never designed or anticipated by the founders of our Nation; that our courts would become a weapon to batter someone into submission; that our courts would become a tool of business; that our courts would become a slot machine where individuals could pull the handle and receive big benefits.

I love our court system, and I think our court system has the potential to be fair, impartial, and to resolve grievances for every American citizen. I think the court system works hard to see that it does just that. But there are issues and attitudes of the American people that we can only change by redirecting the thought pattern of ``I am going to get rich on this lawsuit,'' rather than the fairer thought process of ``I am going to recover for how I was damaged and how I suffered.'' That is what we are looking here for.

I think that every American is looking to his or her government to be treated fairly. I think it is our responsibility here as Members of Congress to try to do everything we can to make sure that all who appear in the courts get fair justice.

So I thank the Chair for being willing to listen to us tonight and to hear our discussion about lawsuit abuse and in particular medical malpractice, and I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to stand up and be counted by casting their vote for fairness. I also urge our colleagues in the other body to address this issue and cast their vote for fairness in the American justice system. If we instigate and create fairness, we will have done the will of the framers and the will of the American people.

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