"Have you or a loved one suffered from pelvic mesh implant surgery? Call Such-and-Such, Attorneys at Law. We don't charge until you get paid!" You have heard the pitch. Last June when my wife and I returned from China, these were roughly the first words we heard when we turned on the television. One depressing aspect of returning to the United States from overseas is the American obsession with lawsuits.
This was immediately followed by an advertisement for a new drug: "Is Glorp right for you? Ask your doctor today." And while it didn't give prices, it went on to say that if anyone needed help paying for the medications, perhaps the company can help. Again, it is obvious to anyone returning from overseas that drugs in America cost much more.
A year later, I return to the United States and turn on the television. The new drug being pitched last year is now the subject of the lawsuits this year. The high cost of U.S. medications has many reasons; the cost of lawsuits is one of them.
A lawsuit-happy America drives up the cost of many things besides pharmaceuticals. The box of naphthalene mothballs that used to cost 99 cents is now $4.99. American obstetricians may pay nearly a quarter of a million dollars in liability insurance each year to practice, since many American parents think they are guaranteed a perfect baby. If the baby is not perfect, someone has to pay. Without regard to science, juries see that medical doctors have the "deep pockets."
And the main impetus for student teachers to join teachers unions is to buy liability insurance they will likely never use. This is the greatest irony of all. The chance of a teacher being sued for malpractice is vanishingly small. A teacher is too poor to be worth suing. But with insurance, they now have the "deep pockets" to be worth suing.
The "duh" response to our lawsuit-crazy culture proposed by some politicians is simply to cap liability payouts. This blesses perpetual stupidity and denies fair compensation to a small number who are harmed by intentional and wrongful acts.
The intelligent response is to kick up the level of science education so that future jury decisions and legislated laws are more intelligent. Our current inadequate biology education is the basis for our superficial medical and health decisions.
But we also need to recognize that bad things can happen despite everyone involved doing their best.
Three years ago in May, 2010 I wrote in this column about "When Bad Things Happen." I used the term "maloccurrence" for situations where bad things happen and it is not anyone’s fault. I genuinely thought "maloccurrence" was an actual word in the dictionary. It fits nicely in a spectrum of liability that ranges from intentional harm to no-fault accidents.
"Malpractice" is when a practitioner performs an act that an average competent professional would not.
In "malfeasance," a person performs an act that is standard professional practice but does it wrong and causes harm.
And in "nonfeasance" a person fails to act, and harm occurs that they could have prevented (such as failing to help a person who is dangling off of a cliff nearby).
But where is the term for situations where everyone involved is doing the best that they can, and yet bad things happen?
This concept just isn't in our language. When we are harmed, our vocabulary leaves us with no options. We "hold them accountable." We are always looking for someone to blame. And we are all paying higher prices for goods and for insurance as a result.
So how do we get the word "maloccurrence" into our American language?
In his first show on October 17, 2005, Comedy Network’s Stephen Colbert coined the term "truthiness" and it got nearly instantaneous recognition across the country. Used to describe any truth that "comes from the gut" or "feels right" regardless of evidence, "truthiness" spread coast-to-coast.
America desperately needs the word "maloccurrence."
Dictionaries are history books, not law books. Dictionaries record how we use words. You as a reader can help get this word into circulation. Use "maloccurrence" every chance you have in e-mail, letters and discussions.
My gut tells me that "maloccurrence" has more evidence for its existence than "truthiness."