Several area health care systems originally faced similar lawsuits or were threatened with them. Those hospital systems then began discounting prices to uninsured patients more aggressively...
Since then, hospitals across the country and the St. Louis area have made significant changes to their charity care policies...
Chip Robertson, an attorney representing the class, said Tuesday's settlement is a "serious attempt" by BJC to address the problem of the uninsured.
The civil courts are not just important for ensuring that individuals can find justice when they've been treated unfairly. Many lawsuits also have secondary effects that benefit whole communities, cities, and even the entire general public. In this way, the civil justice system-the system of public courts where plaintiffs bring these types of disputes-is an empowering tool for ordinary citizens.
Through the civil justice system, ordinary people have helped spark improvements in areas like product safety and medical treatment protocol. Their lawsuits have created incentives for corporations and other powerful entities to avoid litigation by improving the practices that would lead to litigation. In other words, lawsuits force powerful entities like corporations and even government agencies to consider the impact their actions will have on real human beings, and I'm not just talking about the individual human beings who stand to gain financially from the matter.
And why shouldn't lawsuits do this?
Most corporations are driven by the profit motive, not the moral motive. Obviously that doesn't mean corporations willfully go about seeking opportunities to harm people, but it can sometimes mean that human interests conflict with the bottom line. For instance, a corporate polluter may fight litigation because punitive damages would cut into the corporation's profits. It could-and probably would-do this even if the devastation it caused truly warranted a stiff penalty. As the BJC lawsuit demonstrates, sometimes even non-profits are susceptible to this troubling tension.
Through the civil justice system, people can fight for their interest in living free of the harms that are caused when corporations fail to implement human values as they execute predominantly profit-motivated business practices. This is why, especially in light of efforts to limit our access to the courts, it is important to continue the dialogue on how to strengthen the civil justice system.
DMI Civil Justice Fellow Kia Franklin is the editor ofTortDeform.com. She just released the report "Election '08: A pro-civil justice presidential platform".