As expected, U.S. President George W. Bush used Madison County's Gateway Convention Center as a bully pulpit Jan. 5, calling on Congress to take action on tort reform this year.
"The United States Congress needs to pass real medical liability reform this year," President Bush said.
Standing before a backdrop of 100 lab-coated medical professionals, the president said he wanted Congress to adopt caps on non-economic damages, and reforms for class action filings, asbestos litigation and joint and several liability.
"The system is out of control," the president said repeatedly. "The system needs to be fixed."
On the president's first trip of the new year--and a first to Collinsville by a sitting U.S. president--he was quick to point out his purpose for being in southern Illinois.
"I think people in this part of the world understand," Bush said. "No one is healed by a frivolous lawsuit. The cause of justice is not served by frivolous lawsuits.
"Voters made their position very clear on election day."
The president pointed to the meteoric rise in the number of class action lawsuits filed in Madison County.
"The number of class actions rose 5000% from 1998 to 2003 even though the vast majority of defendants were not actually from Madison County," he said. "The proper place for massive class actions is not in local court but in federal court."
Before the president spoke he met privately with some physicians and other medical professionals to hear first-hand accounts of the area's medical liability crisis. He repeated stories of doctors either leaving the region or scaling back medical care because of the high costs of liability insurance.
"Some costs are not necessary," the president said. "Many of the costs that we're talking about don't start in an examining room or an operating room. They start in a courtroom.
"What's happening all across this country is that lawyers are filing baseless suits against hospitals and doctors. That's just a plain fact, and they're doing it for a simple reason.
"They know the medical liability system is tilted in their favor. Jury awards in medical liability cases have skyrocketed in recent years."
The president said "junk" lawsuits drive up the costs of medical liability insurance, even for doctors who don't get sued.
"A recent study ranked Madison County the number one place in the country for trial lawyers to sue, and that's a ranking I'm sure you'd like to get rid of.
"Those of you traveling in from St. Clair County aren't doing much better. St. Clair is ranked the second county in America where you're likely to get sued."
Bush pondered why plaintiff's lawyers are drawn to Madison County. Referencing the city's renown as the world's largest horseradish producer, the president said, "I'm pretty sure it's not because they're looking for horseradish."
The friendly crowd of approximately 1,500 was also pleased at references to Collinsville's world famous catsup bottle.
"I'm sorry Laura is not with me," the president said. "I was hoping she and I could go look at the Ketchup bottle."
He also offered Collinsville's mayor Stan Schaefer some friendly advice.
"I usually like to give mayors unsolicited advice, fill the potholes," he said. "You've probably got some advice for me, pass the highway bill."
Comments from those attending include: