With every legislative session, lawmakers seem to further reduce the rights of people injured by medical errors and malpractice.
Often described as a form of corporate welfare, Tort Reform makes it more difficult for people to file lawsuits and caps any award they get for damages. Some states even require the losing party to pay the court costs of the opposing party, making malpractice lawsuits extremely risky for individuals facing opponents with deep pockets.
Tort reform advocates argue that meritless lawsuits are expensive, clog up the courts, and just make the trial attorneys wealthy. Critics, however, contend that the real purpose is to shield businesses, especially large corporations, from justly compensating patients and clients for damages incurred from negligence, fraud, medical malpractice, and other legitimate claims. Lawsuits, especially those with punitive damages, play an important role in reducing medical errors and improving the safety of products and procedures, by making it financially cheaper to fix the problem than pay the penalties.
Medical errors rise as malpractice lawsuits fall
Today’s blog post is based on my reaction to an article in The Des Moines Register by Thomas P. Slater. It described recent legislation in Iowa to “arbitrarily cap or limit damages for pain, suffering and disability.” I agreed with Slater that the proposed $250,000 cap is a pittance and not nearly enough to compensate someone for their out-of-pocket costs and lost income, or a lifetime of unrelenting pain, discomfort and debility. And without punitive damages to add punishment, corporations may just see expected legal losses as an acceptable cost of doing business.
Tort reform makes the real problem – medical errors, rather than frivolous lawsuits – worse by preventing legitimate suits that would act as a natural deterrent.
According to the film, Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue America’s Healthcare, “30,000 medical care recipients die each year from medical errors, or care they don’t need. That’s the equivalent of a jumbo jet airliner crashing each week. If the aviation industry killed that many people, we’d be up in arms.” So clearly we have a medical errors problem, not a frivolous lawsuit problem.
Defensive Medicine and Rising Healthcare Costs
Tort Reform advocates also argue that preventing lawsuits reduces the “defensive medicine” practice of performing unnecessary tests and procedures, but they unwittingly caused that problem. Readers should know that the insurance industry promoted an unwarranted fear of lawsuits so they could sell malpractice insurance policies. That fear among doctors is what contributed to defensive medicine and rising costs. So it seems again that reality tells a different story than what we hear from industry.
Better than tort reform, in my view, would be online rating systems, like Angie’s List for Medicine, along with the price transparency that Steven Brill called for in his TIME Magazine special report, “Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us.” Given a chance, the risk-reward pressures of free-market capitalism, and the ability to compare practitioners, could go a long way toward rewarding the best ones and weeding out the worst.
Related Movie Trailer: “Hot Coffee”
Related Book Trailer: “Unaccountable”