John Stossel recently wrote an excellent editorial entitled “Parasitic Tort Lawyers.” OK, anything with that title will get our attention. While we concede that the headline is a little over the top (although not much) the article is well thought out – and echoes what Medical Justice has said for years. Stossel begins,

Tort lawyers lie. They say their product liability suits are good for us. But their lawsuits rarely make our lives better. They make lawyers and a few of their clients better off — but for the majority of us, they make life much worse.”

Why is this so? Because people are, for the most part, rational beings. If I touch a hot stove and burn my hand, I learn not to touch a hot stove again. Painful lesson, but lesson learned. How does this make our lives worse? When a person gets burned, whatever the reason, that person will naturally avoid that stimulus in the future. If that person is a doctor, and that stimulus is a frivolous lawsuit, the future behavior will be to avoid that stimulus (the frivolous suit) by “protecting themselves” via defensive medicine. If the effects of that behavior only impacted the doctor, then no real harm done. However, that rational, protective behavior (read defensive medicine) impacts our entire healthcare system. So much so, that some studies estimate the impact between $200 and $400 billion dollars per year. That’s billion with a B.

This state of affairs is not new news to physicians. We have known the cause and impact of defensive medicine for years. What is novel is that John Stossel began his journalistic career as a “Consumer Advocate Reporter.” Fighting, with all good intention, for the little guy. Again Stossel,

Years back, as one of America’s first consumer reporters, I’d avenge harmed consumers by bringing cameras to the offending business and confronting the crooks. My work warned others about the dangers in the marketplace but didn’t do much for the victims.

So I thought about those personal injury lawyers. They could do more good — they could sue bad companies, force them to change and get the victims money. I started referring hurt consumers to lawyers. Imagine my shock when consumers called to say their lawyers took most of the money!”

Even when the lawyers do help their clients, they hurt everyone else because fear of their lawsuits takes away many good things… Look at health care. The lawyers claim they punish bad doctors and win compensation for injured patients, and their suits add “less than 2 percent to the cost.” But there is another side to that story.”

The other side of the story? A few hundred billion dollars worth of defensive medicine. And that hurts everyone, except for those mentioned in Stossel’s title.