The announcement that the Diocese of Wilmington is filing for Chapter 11 protection in the face of 141 different complaints of child sexual abuse has given me pause to think about another issue ... medical tort reform.
How are these two connected?
I read in another source that the diocese has on hand assets equaling roughly $50-100 million, but could face debts of $100-500 million from these cases.
According to the letter that the CBO sent Senator Orrin Hatch regarding medical tort reform, the nation would save $54 billion in part by placing a $250 K cap on "pain and suffering" awards and a $500 K cap on "punitive" damages.
That would mean, if these cases were ajudicated under that standards for child sexual abuse, that the most the Diocese would be on the hook for would be $750 K/person times 141 case, equalling $105.75 million.
Had the Diocese been the beneficiary of that sort of tort reform, it probably would not have had to declare bankruptcy.
Which is a problem for me.
Let's take an eleven-year-old boy who was sexually abused 45 years ago. Would even those of you who have never known sexually abused children (I adopted one) or the adults they become, believe that $16,666/year would make up in any way for the damage done? Here's a clue: that amount wouldn't begin to cover even a fraction of the therapies that should have been undergone, the lost hours of productivity, the hurt and often fatally wounded ability to form personal relationships....
So what about actual medical malpractice awards?
Imagine a child as the victim of surgical negligence at the hands of a physician who makes $300-500 K/year, a child harmed for the rest of his/her life--which itself may be tragically shortened.
Punitive damages against that doctor and that hospital should only equal about one year's pay for the surgeon?
Pain and suffering should be capped at $250 K?
No. 750,000 times no.
I realize that trial lawyers have become a virtual arm of the Democratic Party in many areas, and that it is tempting to say that they are abusing the system for big bucks. Maybe so.
But the reality is that most people don't sue, most people don't collect, most cases are settled, and the real problem is that there is too much medical malpractice occurring in American medicine, just as there was too much child abuse occurring the the Catholic Church.
The reality is that the court system is one of the places where normal Americans stand a chance--just a chance--at redress against wealthy, entrenched, State-supported corporate interests. [Why do I say "State-supported" here? Because that letter to Orrin Hatch said most of the savings would come from malpractice insurance payments that would be reduced for Medicare, Medicaid, and VA physicians.]
The reality is that if I argue that GM is not too big to fail, and that Bank of America is not too big to fail, then I have to accept the fact (even as a practicing Catholic) that the Catholic Church cannot be too big to fail, nor can the health insurance industry.
The answer to people wanting tort reform for medical malpractice is the same answer that the Catholic Church should be given on child sexual abuse: if hospitals did not tolerate malpractice, and the Church did not tolerate abuse, then the actual cases would be few and far between because the hospitals and the Church would not hide the offenders, but would have made examples of them and dealt honorably with the victims when the problems occurred.