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Truth About Tort Reform Supporter Uncovered

The Houston Chronicle has a great story about Dr. Forney Fleming, a spokesman for Texans For Lawsuit Reform. Dr. Fleming was a key spokesperson for TLR and even prominently featured on its website. But, according to the Chronicle, TLR forgot to tell you that Dr. Fleming was reprimanded by the Texas Medical Board for substandard care and was accused by the Board of providing substandard care to at least six other patients (those claims were still pending when Dr. Fleming let his medical license lapse). The article reports that Dr. Fleming was also sued or threatened with malpractice suits three times.

Since the Chronicle started investigating its story, TLR has tried to distance itself from Dr. Fleming. But Texas Watch was able to document Dr. Fleming’s TLR bio, which is available here.

The sad thing is that this isn’t unusual. Author Stephanie Mencimer says that one of the things that prompted her to write her book Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue was the often unsavory background of the people that various tort reform groups chose to use as their “case studies” to prove why the system is broken.  For instance, Ms. Mencimer tells the story of Dr. Robert Zaleski.  In January 2003, doctors in Wheeling, West Virginia made national news by walking off the job to protest higher medical malpractice rates.  Dr. Zaleski was one of the key faces of the walkout, making the rounds of TV shows and news, including being featured on CNN and in the New York Times.   In fact, Dr. Zaleski was even personally invited by President Bush to attend a speech in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Bush spoke about “out of control lawsuits.”

But again, the tort reform groups didn’t do their homework.  Ms. Mencimer writes that Dr. Zaleski had been sued over fourteen times by his patients and admitted in a deposition in one of the lawsuits that he had been addicted to prescription painkillers for a substantial part of the time that he was operating on patients in the early 1980s.  And, she continues, not only was he an addict, but to maintain his habit, he allegedly wrote prescriptions to other local addicts, who filled them and then kicked pills back to the doctor.  As Ms. Mencimer puts it, “Given this history, the real scandal may not be how high Zaleski’s insurance premiums are, but the fact that he can get insurance at all.”

Unfortunately, these are the sorts of lies and half-truths that tort reform groups are using to not only push for reform, but to poison potential juries against personal injury cases.

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