I was interested to read that medical malpractice payments nationwide are at an all-time low, according to a new study. MedPage Today reported that both the value of payments and their number dropped to their lowest levels in 2012, following ten years of declining values. But it’s not necessarily good news, according to MedPage Today. An academic at Temple University here in Philadelphia told the website that doctors’ groups are more hostile to medical malpractice lawsuits than they once were, and more governments have responded by enacting “tort reform” laws that limit patients’ rights to recover for serious injuries. Another expert said malpractice payments may be down because visits to doctors in general are down.
The study was authored by public-interest watchdog Public Citizen, which said the results showed that malpractice payouts aren’t to blame for rising health care costs. Over the past 10 years, it said, the cost of health care has risen 58.2 percent, while medical malpractice payments have fallen 28.8 percent. If malpractice lawsuits were really a major driver of health care costs, the organization argued, the total cost of U.S. health care in 2012 would have been less than half of the actual cost. It calculated payouts at 0.11% of national health care costs. Public Citizen said the drop in malpractice payouts wasn’t because of a measured drop in actual malpractice; it said between 1/4 and 1/7 of hospital patients suffer some kind of adverse event. Rather, the researchers attributed the drop to the large number of state laws enacted that limit patients’ rights to sue.
That includes many limits on medical malpractice lawsuits here in Philadelphia, where we have an affidavit requirement for new lawsuits, among other laws. The Pennsylvania legislature often attempts to make other such laws. The trouble is, these laws typically put difficult legal barriers in front of people who are seeking fair compensation for a catastrophic injury that was no fault of their own. The affidavit of merit requirement, for example, frequently stops plaintiffs when they miss deadlines to file the affidavit, have trouble affording it, or file one only to have it rejected by the trial court. That’s why attorneys like me who practice medical malpractice law in Pennsylvania are generally against further attempts to “reform” lawsuits in favor of the medical industry.
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