There is a serious medical crisis in this country. Too many greedy lawyers are going after doctors and hospitals by bringing bogus, or frivolous, medical malpractice lawsuits. This is causing health costs to skyrocket and forcing some doctors to quit their practices because of ever increasing insurance premiums. The only answer to this crisis is “tort reform.” And so the story goes. While this has been a major storyline pitched mainly by conservative politicians and pundits, it is categorically false!
There is a serious medical crisis in this country but it does not involve too many medical malpractice lawsuits, but too much medical malpractice!
In a book entitled, “The Medical Malpractice Myth” by Tom Baker, a University of Connecticut professor who specializes in insurance issues, the conclusion about our medical crisis is that “If anything, there are fewer lawsuits than would be expected, and far more injuries than we usually imagine.” He cites an extensive Harvard study – where over 31,000 cases were analyzed by doctors and nurses, who would be expected to be sympathetic to the position of the health care providers – that concluded doctors were injuring one out of every 25 patients, but only 4% of those ever brought a claim or sued.
Lawyers can’t make a living taking frivolous lawsuits. Lawyers, by economic necessity, need to be judicious, pardon the pun, in the types of cases they take.
A 2013 Emory University School of Law study found that 95% of patients who sought legal representation for harm suffered as a result of medical treatment were denied help, primarily for economic reasons. As a lawyer may have to invest $50,000 or more of his own money to pursue a case, the study found lawyers would not accept a case- even one they knew they could win- if the damages were less than $250,000!
As a practicing lawyer for over 35 years, it breaks my heart to turn down legitimate medical malpractice cases where there is clear malpractice but not enough in the way of damages (recovery). While lawyers want to see justice done when a medical error has left someone injured, they also have mortgages and other bills to pay. Taking frivolous lawsuits is the easiest way to go out of business!
I, like virtually all attorneys handling medical malpractice cases, accept cases on a “contingency fee basis “- which means I only get paid if I win. I get paid NOTHING for all my time and effort if there is no recovery because it’s a frivolous lawsuit. And, just as important, I will not be able to recoup the thousands upon thousands of dollars I have personally laid out to bring the case.
The conversation about our medical crisis needs to be changed from “tort reform” to reform of the way bad doctors are sanctioned, or more correctly not sanctioned, by the medical societies. All too often bad doctors, many of whom are “serial offenders,” are given a slap on the wrist and allowed to remain in practice instead of being weeded out…putting us all at risk.