What Tort Reform Supporters Aren’t Telling You

 

The tort reform movement, an effort to limit plaintiff’s rights to collect compensation for injuries or losses they’ve experienced due to the negligence of others, has put out into the general public many fallacies about personal injury law, and medical malpractice law in particular. This blog aims to dispel just some of the myths that tort reform supporters (let’s call them tort reformers) commonly tout as facts in efforts to trample the rights of wronged individuals.

First things first: tort reform supporters consistently point to medical malpractice cases as frivolous lawsuits, and the lawyers who handle the cases as “ambulance chasers,” conjuring an image of money-hungry individuals only interested in disasters for the financial gain. These two notions are false and they are continually peddled for the sole purpose of limiting the rights of the injured. According to a Harvard University study of medical negligence claims, 97% of the claims had merit, and 80% of them involved death or serious injury. Furthermore, the idea that lawyers will file anything with a number sign on it is refuted by another study. According to a study conducted in Wisconsin, 80% of requests for representation in medical malpractice cases were denied. That means that, based on the study, just one out of every five medical malpractice cases that lawyers were offered were actually taken on—the rest were declined, despite a possible payday for the attorney.

Second, many tort reformers argue that medical malpractice is hindering the ability of good doctors to continue to practice medicine. They argue that medical malpractice lawsuits target all doctors, rather than just the dangerous ones. Again, this is wrong. While there is a staggering wealth inequality in this country, there is also a staggering “med-mal” inequality, with just 6% of doctors being responsible for nearly 60% of the medical malpractice claims. For example, from the years 1991-2005, 5.9% of doctors in the U.S. were responsible for payments on 57.8% of medical malpractice claims. Each of the doctors who compose the 5.9% was a repeat offender, and many were responsible for paying out claims as many as four times. If that’s not a sign of the fact that medical malpractice cases target a minority of dangerous doctors, we don’t know what is.

Third, tort reformers would have you believe that shortening the statute of limitations on medical malpractice cases would reduce the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed. Basically, they argue, if you give plaintiff’s a shorter amount of time in which they are allowed to file a complaint against the doctor, the result will be fewer complaints being filed. WRONG! According to Bloomberg News, in New York, where the statute of limitations is only 2.5 years, relatively far more med-mal lawsuits are filed. Bloomberg points out that with the shortened time, many plaintiff’s file complaints naming a wide range of doctors who may be responsible for their injuries; the innocent parties are later dropped from the legal pursuit of the plaintiff, but in the meantime, the named doctors are exposed to loss of business and public embarrassment. In essence, with a longer statute of limitations, plaintiffs would have more time to accurately analyze who the responsible doctor is, thereby eliminating the need for a blanket complaint naming multiple doctors, many of whom are innocent.

Finally, the prized claim of the tort reform movement: medical malpractice cases drive-up the cost of health care in the U.S. For example, tort reformers contend that doctors, who are scared of possible medical malpractice cases being brought against them, have their patients undergo expensive and unnecessary tests in order for the doctors to further protect themselves against a possible lawsuit. Again, wrong. According to a study conducted in part by the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office, doctors order extensive and expensive tests for their clients because it generates income! Doctors, in general, are not pro-bono workers who perform medical work purely out of the goodness of their hearts—they are career doctors who need to earn a living, and having patients undergo tests generates money for their practice and for them. Additionally, are tort reformers really arguing against extensive tests to ensure that all bases have been covered? If anything, in this sense, medical malpractice cases have ensured better health care by way of more careful screening of patients by doctors.

There are a lot of myths that tort reformers want you to believe. The fact is, you have a legal right to compensation if you’ve been wronged, even if the wrongdoer was a medical professional. If you have experienced a wrongdoing at the hands of a medical professional, please contact us for a free consultation at 561-266-9191 or daronberg@build.simple.biz.

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