Chuck Muth: Nevada's lawsuit lottery and jackpot justice

A licensed, highly trained professional doctor in Las Vegas reportedly told his licensed, highly trained professional nurses to reuse syringes to save money, ultimately and not surprisingly resulting in patients who were injected with the dirty needles becoming infected with hepatitis C.

The victims, naturally and rightfully, sued. And as per the industry's standard operating procedure, the lawyers involved decided to include in their lawsuit two of the manufacturers of the drug that was injected into the patients because ... well, for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks:

That's where the money is.

The mind-boggling claim by the victims' lawyers is that the drug companies failed to sufficiently warn highly trained professional doctors and highly trained professional nurses that they shouldn't inject drugs into patients using syringes which had previously been used. Duh.

Even more amazingly, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the judge in the case, Jessie Walsh, ruled at the start of the trial "that the drug companies were not allowed to use the 'dirty doctor' defense and blame the infection on doctors and nurses misusing the drug."

What the...? This is like suing General Motors because someone drove their Chevy to the levy drunk and hit someone.

Nevertheless, a sympathetic jury - and how can you not be sympathetic toward people who put their faith and trust in medical professionals who did something even heroin addicts on the street know not to do? - handed down on Wednesday a guilty verdict against the drug companies totaling more than $5 million, and that doesn't even include punitive damages.

Yes, I feel bad for the victims, but this is just wrong. It's exactly like that outrageous, and now infamous, case where that woman bought a cup of hot coffee at a McDonald's drive-thru and then proceeded to spill it in her lap. The woman's lawyer sued McDonald's for her own stupidity, claiming the coffee, not her judgment, was "defective."

Sympathy or not, you don't compensate victims by creating other victims by holding people responsible for something they weren't responsible for just because greedy ambulance-chasing lawyers salivate at the sight of their financial deep pockets.

These kinds of jury verdicts are a prime reason for today's soaring health care costs. Such lawsuits force insurance companies to charge higher insurance rates which cause doctors and other medical service providers to charge higher fees to pay the higher insurance premiums to cover catastrophic jury verdicts which only fuel further lawsuits which further drive up costs. That's why no serious health care reform proposal should be considered seriously unless it includes serious tort reform.

Hey, I've got a great idea. Let's pay all the lawyer fees in these cases with chickens and goats! Yeah, that's the ticket.

• Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a non-profit public policy grassroots advocacy organization.


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