Throughout the centuries, the biblical story of David and Goliath has produced a consistent theme that has become a part of our culture. Though the storys symbolism has broad connotations, it is most often used to demonstrate that right can conquer might.
All sorts of worthy philosophies have sprung from the concept. The little guy can lick the big guy if he is clever and has right on his side; brains can win over brawn; good triumphs over evil; and people love the underdog, to mention a few.
However, there are other, more subtle, characterizations rooted in the David and Goliath story. For example, because Goliath was a giant, big is often associated with evil and since David was small by comparison, his size takes on the role of virtue.
Such presumptions have found their ultimate expression in modern customs and laws. Some of the more visible manifestations of this in the world of business include antitrust statutes, workers compensation laws, regulated monopolies and laws assuring equal opportunities for all.
As helpful as this heritage of “right beats might” may be in most cases, there are timesespecially when carried to extremeswhen it can cause serious dislocations in our society. For example, the outrageous and many times unjustified jury awards in personal injury cases are clearly a replay of David slaying the Goliath insurance company. Few people realize that in most such cases, “Goliath” is also representing tens of thousands of “little folks” who, because of excessive awards, will now have to pay higher premiums. At such times, being Goliath can be a very tough business, particularly when we know that “David” is stealing the sheep.
The medical care delivery system in our country, as well as manufacturing and commercial sectors of our economy, carry a cost burden not found anywhere else in the world. I refer, of course, to litigation that purports to resemble David fighting the giant (and evil) corporations that either provide goods and services or insure against their liability claims. It is a great testimony to our system that it can still deliver quality health care even though hobbled by the threat of crippling lawsuits.
Trial lawyers dismiss the threat to the general welfare by claiming that the costs associated with litigation amount to less than 1% of the cost of health care. That is an absurd claim and completely ignores the indirect costs predatory lawyers are causing.
Two recent examples involving people I know personally will, I believe, illustrate the problem. In the first instance, the person was hospitalized with severe abdominal distress. Numerous tests were given over a period of 3 days in the hospital. The final diagnosis? Indigestion.
The bill for the tests and period of stay in the hospital was more than $10,000.
The second case involved a severe case of dizziness requiring an ambulance trip to the emergency room of a local hospital. When the cause of dizziness could not be immediately determined, overnight hospitalization ensued. During the stay in the hospital (30 hours), blood was drawn 5 times, 5 EKGs were taken along with one MRI and one CAT scan. In addition to the regular hospital staff, an otorhinolaryngolist conducted tests of the ears. Before any treatment was started, the dizziness disappeared and the patient was discharged.
In both of these instances, there were clear indications that the driving force behind all these tests was to limit liability in case of a lawsuit. In both cases, a “wait and see” approach used in former times would have saved thousands of dollars for tests of doubtful value. Time and again when asked “Why this test?” the answer came back, “We have to do this, not only for the good of the patient, but to protect ourselves.”
When the cost of practicing defensive medicine plus the cost of medical malpractice insurance is added to our health care bill, I am convinced that the unnecessary burden our system has to carry is substantial. The sad part is that there is insufficient recognition on the part of the public that such costs eventually come out of their own hide. Too often when David brings down a Goliath in a well-publicized lawsuit, the public cheers for Davidthen blames Goliath when their own premiums rise. We still have a lot of education to do.
On balance, I am convinced that Davids slaying of Goliath and all that it symbolizes, has been beneficial. But we must remember that “big” as a judgmental expression relates only to size, not to quality or rightness. So, once in awhile, lets hear it for Goliath.
Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, October 21, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.