Over the last decade, lobbyists and lawmakers have bemoaned large medical malpractice verdicts as catalysts for rising medical costs and insurance premiums. Because of this, a number of states have passed laws imposing caps on money damages for injured plaintiffs.
In Pennsylvania, the MCare rule limits medical malpractice recovery to one million dollars per patient. In Texas, pain and suffering claims are limited to $250,000. Ohio law also mandates caps on non-economic damages of $350,000 per plaintiff (or $500,000 if the injury includes some type of permanent and substantial physical deformity). Despite these limitations, proponents of tort reform believe that medical malpractice lawsuits are still the primary contributor to rising health care costs.
A recent Wall Street Journal article rebuffs these claims and suggests that medical errors (and the factors that contribute to them) are the real reason for cost increases - not malpractice lawsuits. A survey of operating room and critical care nurses detailed how incompetence, dangerous shortcuts, and poor workplace communication contribute to medical errors, especially when physicians disregard safety protocols and nurses are fearful of reporting such violations.
Based on this survey, if hospital errors are reduced, fewer malpractice claims will arise. While the specter of large medical malpractice verdicts is a genuine concern, they actually work to protect patients and promote quality care. Hospitals, like any other business in America, pay close attention to the threat of losing money in a lawsuit. To shield themselves from liability, they must ensure that physicians and nurses follow safety rules in order to maintain an acceptable standard of care.
Conventional wisdom also suggests that costly malpractice suits, by themselves, are not to blame for increasing health care costs. Attorneys who pursue medical malpractice suits are very candid about the time and resources such cases require, and they are very careful about investigating a plaintiff's claims before taking a case.
Further, the statutory reforms have created additional barriers for plaintiffs seeking a legal remedy. Most states require a physician's declaration that a procedure was performed "outside of acceptable professional standards" in order for a lawsuit to proceed. As such, the risk of defending frivolous lawsuits is quite low. Since these elements do not contribute directly to costly malpractice verdicts, one could look to the permanent effects of simple negligence for the real reason behind the increase in health care costs.
If you or a loved one has been seriously harmed by medical malpractice, contact an experienced Cleveland personal injury attorney at Spangenberg, Shibley & Liber LLP to discuss your unique case and explore your legal options.