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Case in Point: Liability System Requires Reform
A Las Vegas physician took to the editorial pages of papers across the country this month, making a case for reform of a system that operates as a random roulette with odds that are not in the deserving patient’s favor.
Dr. Sean Dow writes, “The system is inefficient, costly and plagued with abuse, often punishing providers who have done no wrong. The consequences are an adversarial environment with reduced and delayed payments (five years is not uncommon), an increase in the cost of medicine, defensive medicine (unnecessary care which is burdensome to scarce resources), and decreased access to health care, especially in fields such as pediatrics, obstetrics, and neurosurgery, where annual malpractice premiums can reach $200,000.”
With thousands of cases filed, most never make it to trial, but still cause physicians the distress of drawn out litigation and the expense of nearly $50,000 in legal fees – even when no evidence of wrongdoing is found.
In cases of true negligence where the court’s decision is in favor of the patient, more than half of the settlement is taken up in lawyer’s fees and other expenses, leaving less money for deserving patients.
Dow concludes that “While a few do hit the malpractice “lottery,” the only consistent winner in this broken system is the lawyer…We all win, if meaningful malpractice reform can become the law of the land.”
Click here to read Dr. Dow’s case of reforming our liability system in favor of patients.
Coalition to Protect Patients in California Launches Radio, TV Ads
The No on 46 campaign, a coalition of physician and health groups, labor unions, business organizations, and local governments in support of protecting patients in California and reducing medical lawsuit abuse, has launched radio and television ads throughout the state in advance of a measure on this fall’s ballot to overturn the state’s limits on non-economic damages.
The ads, running statewide in both English and Spanish, inform voters that passage of the measure would increase costs, threaten personal privacy and jeopardize access to trusted physicians and health care providers.
“The real story behind Proposition 46? Start with the trial lawyers. They wrote and paid for Prop 46. Why? Pretty simple. To make millions from more medical lawsuits and higher jury awards,” the television ad begins.
Expanding on the cost increases that could be expected is the coalition’s radio ad.
“Well, as Prop 46 increases doctors’ malpractice insurance…the cost of health care will rise for the rest of us,” the ad states.
Language in the ballot proposition stands to quadruple California’s the limit on non-economic damages, costing hundreds of millions of dollars every year in higher health care costs, and causing the state to regress to a point in time in the 1970s when physicians and medical professionals closed their practices and moved out of state due to unsustainable medical liability insurance costs, reducing patient access to care.
Click here to watch No on 46’s latest television ad, and here for their latest radio ad. You can visit NoOn46.com for more information about the coalition and their campaign to block changes to California’s liability laws that would lead to medical lawsuit abuse and put health care services out of reach from the state’s patients.
Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
While recent trends may be positive for the liability climate in Pennsylvania, personal injury attorneys haven’t shown much brotherly love for the city of Philadelphia’s physicians.
The good news is that since 2002, when the state began requiring that liability cases be filed only in the jurisdiction where the injury occurred, litigation throughout the state was reduced by half.
The Pennsylvania legislature also sharply restricted the possibility for recovery in civil cases, passing a law requires that plaintiffs show a defendant is 60 percent or more responsible before the plaintiff can get any money.
However, the city of Philadelphia hasn’t fared so well on the medical liability front. Only 12 percent of the state’s population lives there, but 40 percent of the medical liability trials resulting in verdicts in 2013 took place in the city.
And not only are a disproportionate number of cases tried there, but the odds are better for personal injury attorneys.
Philadelphia plaintiffs won 45 percent of cases tried to verdict in 2013, more than any other jurisdiction. The Philadelphia suburb of Bucks County had just four medical liability cases resulting in verdicts, and personal injury attorneys won none of them, with attorneys in the suburb of Montgomery County winning 19 percent of cases – but still trailing far behind Philadelphia.
To read more about the state of the liability system in the city of Philadelphia, click here.
Future of Florida’s Liability System Remains Uncertain
Based on recent arguments heard before the Florida Supreme Court, the state’s limits on non-economic damages may be in danger of being overturned – hurting patient access to care.
After an appeals court ruled that the state’s limit on non-economic damages could be applied retroactively, personal injury attorneys have appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court while also challenging the constitutionality of the limits themselves.
Jeff Scott, general counsel for the Florida Medical Association, confirmed that the limits are in jeopardy.
“Given the track record of the (Florida) Supreme Court, one would have to conclude the likelihood of a favorable opinion is slim,” Scott said.
With a patchwork of laws across the country and legislatures and state Supreme Courts subject to changing political winds, an attorney with experience defending physicians against meritless lawsuits emphasizes the need for comprehensive reform at the federal level.
“It seems to be a political hotbed issue and, depending on the philosophical leaning of any state’s legislature and/or Supreme Court, one can take a pretty educated guess as to what the immediate future holds for caps in a given state,” said J. Thaddeus Eckenrode.
Click here for more information about the legal challenges to Florida’s reasonable limits on non-economic damages.