Tort Reform

At the Warwick Town Hall I had a guy yelling in my face–TORT REFORM!!!

It’s pretty funny, actually, that so many people are fired up to limit their options for compensation. They must be the same people who opposed taxing Paris Hilton’s inheritance. All those non-millionaires fighting the ‘death tax’.

I wish the noise level had been lower, because I could have told that guy that I agree that we need tort reform. First– a link to a legal definition of a tort.

Second, the infamous McDonald’s coffee case. Interestingly, that case started because the woman who got burned had medical bills to pay.

In my researches into the Salem witch trials, I discovered an interesting cultural trait. The Puritans sued each other a lot. Launching lawsuits was a part of our culture before we called ourselves Americans. The Pilgrims were dragging each other into court before the first apple trees were planted to make the first American apple pie. God, we’re obnoxious.

Suing is a lousy way to settle differences– it makes both sides look bad. There’s a time and place for it, but not as a first recourse, and not for profit.

The threat of lawsuits hangs over anyone who works with people, especially in the medical field. Sometimes it makes us defensive, it feeds into a work culture that values competence and has a hard time admitting the existence of human error. I don’t think the pressure makes us give better care. Some statistics show that the cost of malpractice is not a significant part of health care costs, but it depends on who you are. I pay a modest yearly fee for malpractice insurance– if I was a midwife I might have to choose between practicing my specialty and making a living. The costs fall very heavily on some doctors and nurses.

The present system doesn’t protect patients either. I have heard stories from people who I believed had a valid cause for complaint. But they didn’t sue. They were sick, maybe they were old. It takes a lot of energy to go after someone. I think that most people who are harmed by medical errors just suffer. The present system rewards a few people who win a lawsuit, and makes their lawyers rich, but doesn’t do much for the rest of us.

I don’t think tort reform will solve the cost of health care, but I’m encouraged by this…

Administration officials said Obama’s order will encourage states to experiment with programs that reduce litigation and promote patient safety. Preventable medical errors are estimated to cause 44,000 to 98,000 deaths a year.

One kind, known as “early disclosure” or “Sorry Works,” encourages doctors and hospitals to own up to their mistakes, apologize to patients and their families, and offer restitution as well as a pledge of corrective action to prevent other patients from being harmed by the same mistake.

Here’s another approach, check out the numbers–

The second type of program requires would-be malpractice plaintiffs to go before an expert before they proceed to court. The expert — it can also be a panel — acts like a grand jury to weed out frivolous cases. Gordon said that since his state of Tennessee adopted such a requirement last year, the number of malpractice cases filed has dropped by 69 percent. And malpractice insurance premiums are expected to decline by 2.5 percent this year.

I love that. The insurance companies have 69% fewer malpractice cases and they drop the fees 2.5%. Maybe there are some cost savings to be had by taking them out of the middle of things.

I think we could do a lot better than the present system. Patients deserve protection from mistakes and malpractice, and compensation for their losses. Practitioners shouldn’t have to practice defensive medicine.

But this is a side issue to the real offense– a crime, not a tort. Americans are going bankrupt, getting sick and dying for lack of affordable health care. Tort reform if done right will improve care and help cut costs, but it is only a small part of the picture. We need a plan that makes health care accessible to all Americans.

2 thoughts on “Tort Reform

  1. Yes, you are right. I am not able to sue a medical device manufacture for the death of my son because of Reigel v. Medtronic. His pacemaker, we have since learned has a fail rate of 4% after 3.8 years. Yes, it appears everyone makes out in this deal except my son.

    I have not seen one piece of empirical evidence to show me that tort reform will save significant money in health. I have not seen one piece of empirical evidence to show me that defensive medicine is the result of lawsuits. I have not seen one piece of empirical evidence to show me why some states lose doctors. Not one piece of empirical evidence, only what this person or that persons thinks or what they heard.

    85% of the people say we need tort reform but yet these same 85% participate in this system.

    Who eventually will pay for medical malpractice, society not those that have caused the injury. Injured patients will need care.

    Judges have more knowledge of the civil jury system than anyone.
    In a recent survey:
    * Ninety-one percent believe the system is in good condition
    needing, at best, only minor work.
    * Only 1 percent of the judges who responded gave the jury
    system low marks.
    * Judges have great faith in juries to solve complicated
    * Ninety-six percent said they agree with jury verdicts most
    or all of the time.
    * Nine of 10 judges said jurors show considerable understanding
    of legal issues involved in the cases they hear.

  2. Hi Mark, I am so sorry for the tragic death of your son. I remember my sister, who is a doctor, talking about the issue of medical devices not being regulated by the FDA and how unsafe this is. Thanks for bringing your experience into this conversation. I hope the future of health care reform will mean safer interventions with patients, particularly regarding medical devices.

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