Tort reform, a hotly debated issue in the legal community, is proving a failed experiment. A jury in one of New York’s most conservative counties recently returned a $130 million dollar verdict in a medical malpractice case, the second-largest in the state’s history. The $8 million dollar settlement, proposed by the hospital’s lawyers prior to trial, was turned down by the plaintiff’s attorneys, sending the issue to trial.
New York imposes no cap on pain-and-suffering awards, and only limits fees for winning lawyers at 10 percent (if such award is more than $1.25 million). 29 states currently have monetary caps on plaintiff awards.
Lawyers for the hospital called the jury “out of control”, and are now pushing for even further reform.
Large verdicts may, however, be the most effective driving force in health care reform and patient safety, with recent cases revealing avoidable errors and righting wrongs which may have been unavailable had such reforms in tort liability been executed.
Although tort reform in-and-of itself is laudable, attempting to keep frivolous cases out of our legal system, such reform has in fact made the situation much worse.
Also billed as a way to reduce malpractice insurance premiums, tort reform has not evidenced any reduction, and the industry has in fact seen an opposite trend.
Only one group of medical professionals has seen a drop in premiums, Anesthesiologists. The drop did not come from tort reform. Instead, the drop came from a reform of their own procedures. Increases in safety, doctor and patient assessment, and improvements throughout the industry, have produced a decrease in both avoidable injuries and premiums, with the two continuing to fall annually.
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