Reaction to Death of Tort Reform Bill

KAILUA (KHNL) --  Reaction from island residents, after local lawmakers kill a bill that would have limited the amount of damages doctors could face in a malpractice lawsuit.

"Our legislators have made it a political issue," said Joan Ryan, a Kailua resident.  "The majority party has for some reason has decided that we, the voters, the taxpayers, are just not important."

Many have taken sides in this issue, that some feel is critical to keep doctors from leaving our state.  Others counter, it won't help solve our doctor shortage problem.

Folks we talked to in Kailua pretty much said the same opinion.  They're upset the tort reform bill died and plan to hold lawmakers accountable.

Joan Ryan and members of St. Anthony of Padua Church have been closely following the tort reform bill debate.  It died on the house floor Friday.

"I am so disappointed and so upset because to me it represents in total what our legislators have done in terms of ignoring the will of the people," said Ryan, a 50-year-old former architect.

She says the issue is a very personal one for her.

"Our family, which is divided between here Kailua and Kailua-Kona on the Big Island, over the period of 20 months, has lost six different physicians," said Ryan.

She blames the legal community.

"Because let's face it, the principles involved in blocking this legislation are very, very tight with the lawyers, the lawyer community," she said.  "They are lawyers, and they're supported by lawyers."

Ryan says the abrasive nature of the debate has left some people out.

"And we hear the argument," she said.  "The tort lawyers blame the insurance companies. The insurance companies blame the legislators. It goes around and around, but the crucial group that's being left out of all this are the patients."

She worries the next time there's a major disaster on the islands.

"What will you do?" Ryan asked.  "We're not in a position to have send a bus load of doctors over from San Francisco; we are isolated."

She says lawmakers were voted in by the people, and they can be voted right out.

"So I would say to everybody out there, think about that in November in the election," said Ryan.  "I think about that very seriously. Understand what the person you're voting for has done to you and will do to you."

Dr. Josh Green (D-Kona, Kailua-Kona, Keauhou), the Big Island representative who spearheaded the effort to push through a tort reform bill, says lawmakers failed Hawaii residents.

"I'm frustrated though because I definitely think we should've spent the whole session working to the bitter end to get a compromise," he said.

Dr. Green's health committee passed the bill on Thursday.  It then went to the house floor, where the majority killed the bill.  Dr. Green says he's frustrated it wasn't given a chance this session.

"Because they literally kept it from having a hearing and is that what we're supposed to do in democracy," he said.  "I'm positive everyone in the state would disagree with that."

Dr. Green says he was looking for a compromise -- something he and his colleagues could mutually agree on.  He blames the consumer attorneys who killed the bill, and say they got in the way of good public dialogue.

"I think the attorneys have a skewed idea of what it means to be a victim.  They see victim in terms of a terrible thing that happens in a hospital or a doctor's office. They're right.  People are victimized and they should be protected completely," said Dr. Green.

"But there's another kind of victim that never even gets to a doctor because they don't have an OB/GYN to deliver the baby.  Or they don't have an orthopedist to fix a leg that gets amputated later because there's just no one on the Big Island."

Dr. Green plans to make tort reform a major issue next session.

"They should listen and I will listen to them and that's where compromise comes," he said.  "We had six more weeks. We could have compromised."

Several other bills that look at medical reimbursements and incentives to keep doctors in rural areas are still alive.  They will be heard by various committees next week.