The health care debate continues to take center stage as Congress returns from break. Along with calls for a “public” option or a “cooperative” option, fingers are once again being pointed at tort reform, specifically medical malpractice reform. Unfortunately, the discussion has centered around medical malpractice attorneys and medical professionals, rather than the real parties at interest: the insurance industry and victims of medical negligence.
The Chicago Tribune recently wrote an opinion editorial, “Doctors and Lawyers,” in which the editor argues that medical malpractice tort reform is “Not about the doctors. It’s about the lawyers.” In other words, the argument goes that medical malpractice lawsuits benefit “greedy trial lawyers” at the expense of innocent doctors and hospitals. This is the same flawed argument being pushed by the insurance lobby.
Indeed, the Tribune editor goes on to explain how caps on non-liquidated damages (i.e. pain and suffering, loss of normal life, disfigurement, etc.) benefit the insurance industry. The author notes that since implementing a damages cap in medical malpractice lawsuits in Illinois, “the largest malpractice insurance provider here, ISMIE Mutual Insurance Co., has returned $20 million in dividends to policyholders.” Isn’t that great.
Still, it seems that something was neglected in this discussion. Oh, yes, I remember — the thousands of patients and family members whose lives are ruined each year through no fault of their own by medical negligence. What about their lives?
Victims of medical malpractice are often the most vulnerable people in our society — newborns, children, the elderly, the poor. Medical negligence lawyers — those greedy trial lawyers painted by the insurance lobby and their followers — are the only ones there to protect the rights of these victims. Without the ability or financial incentive to file a lawsuit, the voices of these victims will be silenced.
Herb Friedman, the past president of the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys, discussed how medical malpractice lawsuits, and other actions brought in the civil justice system provide necessary checks and balances to the medical profession by providing access to the courts for wrongs committed. Such injuries suffered at the hands of medical professionals, such as a lack of oxygen to the brain during surgery or installation and use of a faulty pace maker, may require permanent life-long care, and permanent emotional and physical pain and suffering, disfigurement, or loss of normal life (i.e. inability to enjoy daily life activities). Tort law provides a necessary check on such negligence, and a means for the injured party to be able to live as close to a normal life as possible.
Mr. Friedman sites civil lawsuits brought against tobacco and automotive corporations as examples of the success of the current tort system. Because of a person’s ability to bring a civil action when a wrong has been committed, there are safer products on store shelves, and safer cars on the road. And because of a patient’s or the family’s ability to bring a civil action against a negligent medical professional, lives otherwise ruined are, at the very least, made livable.
The focus on “cost-cutting” and “tort reform” ignores a fundamental aspect of law: providing checks and balances in order to hold doctors, hospitals, corporations and others accountable for their actions. To speak with a top Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, call Passen & Powell at (312) 420-5279 for a free consultation.