Whenever a doctor settles a medical malpractice lawsuit, or a jury verdict is awarded against a doctor, that information goes into a National Practitioner Data Bank. This data bank is a big reason why many doctors refuse to agree to settlements, even for obvious malpractice incidents.
I took some time to review the 2013 statistics in the National Practitioner Data Bank to get a sense of how many settlements and jury verdicts have occurred in states with, and without, tort reform laws that places an arbitrary cap on damages.
The information may shock you…
States with tort reform laws don’t have fewer settlements and/or jury verdicts in medical malpractice lawsuits. For example, the Maryland legislature instituted caps on damages, yet Maryland has the third highest number of payouts for medical malpractice claims in the entire country. In addition, Minnesota – a state that has not instituted a cap on damages – is ranked second-to-last in medical malpractice payouts. In fact, Minnesota has fewer payouts than Virginia and North Carolina, even though both VA and NC have severe caps on non-economic damages in place.
So what does this all mean? Well, it means that if you hear someone say that the solution to fixing our nation’s health care problems is tort reform, kindly let them know that they’re fundamentally mistaken.
Tort reform does only one thing – deny victims of medical mistakes the opportunity to be appropriately reimbursed for the harms that they’ve suffered. How? Well, an arbitrary cap on damages only comes into play with a legitimate medical malpractice case. Think about it – the cap is enforced when a victim has made their case to a jury (as afforded under the U.S. Constitution) and that jury decided to award the victim an amount of money that exceeds the cap. This means the victim was able to convince the jury, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the doctor violated the standard of care and committed malpractice.
Tort reform does nothing to hinder or limit so-called “frivolous” claims.