Medical Malpractice Litigation Is Not The Issue, Patient Safety Is

Austin Kirk

By Austin Kirk
Posted March 2, 2010


In the recent debate over heath care reform, Republicans have attempted to put the focus on medical malpractice litigation and diminishing the rights of victims to be compensated for preventable medical errors. However, the real issue in the debate should be about patient safety and making medical care in America better, safer and more effective, which medical malpractice limits will not accomplish.

During the recent health care summit, Senator Richard Durbin, who is an attorney who has worked for both plaintiffs and defendants in malpractice cases, spoke about the problems with the arguments made in support of limiting malpractice litigation. Sen. Durbin pointed out that researchers and scientists have determined that the medical malpractice reform being put forward by Republicans threatens to not only deprive innocent medical mistake victims of fair compensation, but will also actually result in thousands more people dying each year from medical errors.

Before the summit, the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen released a report on medical malpractice litigation in response to misinformation about medical liability reform. The group pointed out that the cost of medical malpractice claims have been steadily dropping and only represent 0.6% of the national cost of health care.

The report highlights five key points that have largely been ignored by proponents of medical malpractice reform:

  1. Medical malpractice payments have fallen steadily for years and are now at or near historic lows;
  2. Although an experiment in Texas has been promoted as proof of the potential benefits of so-called “tort reform,” health care cost increases in that state have far outpaced the national average since it instituted strict liability limits in 2003. Meanwhile, its worst-in-the-nation uninsured rate has gotten even worse;
  3. Most of the money paid out for medical malpractice is for serious outcomes, such as death or quadriplegia. Damage caps would affect the ability of seriously injured people to obtain reasonable compensation; they would not reduce the incidence of alleged “junk lawsuits”;
  4. A serious patient safety crisis does exist; and
  5. Addressing senseless medical errors would save several times as much money as the combined costs of the medical malpractice litigation system, including those for verdicts and settlements, defense litigation, and liability insurance companies’ profits and overhead.

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