Many politicians and editorial writers argue that "frivolous" medical malpractice lawsuits are one of the biggest contributors to ever-increasing health care costs in the United States. Well, it turns out those declarations are simply not based on fact.
In October 2009, in response to a request from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the Congressional Budget Office examined the costs associated with “defensive medicine” and concluded that “reforming” the medical malpractice system, which is coded language for denying victims compensation by capping noneconomic damages, would only reduce total national health care spending by roughly 0.5 percent. Yes, you read that correctly — 0.5 percent.
Another fact that tort reform advocates neglect is that the vast majority of medical malpractice lawsuits are not frivolous. In fact, a study led by Harvard School of Public Health researchers reviewed 1,452 claims closed by five malpractice insurance companies across the country. They focused on surgical, obstetrics, medication and diagnosis errors, which collectively account for about 80 percent of U.S. medical malpractice claims.
The study revealed that almost all of the claims involved a treatment-related injury and 63 percent of those injuries were due to error. Furthermore, more than 90 percent involved a physical injury, which was generally severe. Roughly 80 percent resulted in significant or major disability, and 26 percent resulted in death.
As you can see, the proposition that our courts are inundated with frivolous malpractice lawsuits is simply not true. It’s an argument meant to distract from the real drivers of our escalating health care costs, which include the fee-for-service payment system, an aging population and dramatic increases in people diagnosed with diabetes, asthma, and other conditions that require lifelong care.
Vilifying innocent victims who had their lives turned upside down due to doctors' or surgeons' careless behavior does nothing to solve the real problems of rising health care costs.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.