Nevadans favor doctors over lawyers in tort reform
November 3, 2004
RENO – The war over Nevada’s medical malpractice reforms came down to an advertising blitz that fueled an unpopularity contest between doctors and lawyers, political observers said Wednesday.
“I think one thing that’s quite clear – people like doctors better than lawyers,” said Jeff Stempel, a professor at William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
“Every survey I’ve ever seen suggests generally a better image for doctors than lawyers,” he said.
Doctors capitalized on that perception by portraying lawyers as back-room shysters in the medical profession’s successful campaign to pass Question 3 and defeat Questions 4 and 5 – a pair of competing measures backed by trial lawyers and consumer advocates.
But Stempel and others questioned the process that allows laws to be enacted based on image rather than substance.
“We have this romantic image of the grass roots initiatives,” said Eric Herzik, political science professor and interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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“Many times, you’re asking the public to make a rather quick decision about a complex issue,” he said. “Then it boils down to the worst part of the electoral politics – can you capture the public’s attention with a catch phrase.”
“People of necessity are going to simplify and summarize these things,” he said, adding that passage of Question 3 doesn’t necessarily indicate public support for its provisions.
“They’re supportive of the idea that they see a problem and want it addressed,” he said.
Question 3, the Keep our Doctors in Nevada Initiative, amends state law and caps pain and suffering awards in medical malpractice cases at $350,000. It also limits fees that attorneys can get for representing patients in such cases.
It was approved by Nevada voters, 59 percent to 41 percent, according to unofficial final returns.
Doctors claim the high cost of medical malpractice insurance is driving physicians from the state. They argue rates will be lower, and more doctors will stay, as a result of the passage of Question 3.