“Tort reform,” which places caps on medical malpractice payouts to plaintiffs, is often touted as a means of driving health care costs down and attracting more doctors to a state. But, as it turns out, placing a monetary cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases does not actually have a significant impact on health care costs.
That is what a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals. While proponents of “tort reform” often argue that this type of stringent reform is necessary to cut down on the cost of defensive medicine—that is, unnecessary tests and procedures carried out only to avoid a lawsuit—the study suggests that any savings produced are marginal.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Michael B. Rothberg, worked with researchers at the Cleveland Clinic to examine the cost of defensive medicine in three hospitals. The researchers discovered that defensive medicine accounts for only 2.9% of health care spending (roughly $78 billion). While this might sound like a pretty big number, Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times points out that any “tort reform” strict enough to eliminate defensive medicine would create its own costs, largely from medical mistakes that would arise from a lack of oversight.
Medical Malpractice Caps Do More Harm Than Good
Caps on medical malpractice suits are not producing any major savings for our health care system, and they are also causing devastating harm to plaintiffs with legitimate medical malpractice claims. The people who are most negatively affected by these caps are those who are the most seriously hurt, those who lost a loved one due to medical malpractice, and multiple claimants.
Each state sets its own cap for non-economic medical malpractice, and in many cases that cap sets the maximum payout woefully low. A 2003 law in Florida, for example, set the non-economic damages caps at $500,000 to $1 million (depending on the circumstances of the case). Fortunately, that law was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court earlier this year when they ruled that the parents and infant son of a woman who died as a result of negligent medical care should receive $2 million for pain, suffering, and loss of companionship. Five out of seven of the Florida justices found that medical malpractice caps violate the Equal Protection Clause and amount to unconstitutional discrimination.
States remain divided on the issue of medical malpractice caps, and there are still many other states that have not yet found medical malpractice caps to be unconstitutional. In California, the medical malpractice cap was set at $250,000 in 1975 and has not been adjusted for inflation since then.
Hopefully the new evidence that “tort reform” does not produce significant savings will lead to changes in states’ medical malpractice laws, but change will likely be slow, as proponents of “tort reform” continue to argue that eliminating caps will lead to an influx of frivolous lawsuits and scare doctors away from the state. If you are someone who has been seriously injured or lost a loved one due to medical malpractice, the best way to advocate for change is to file your own suit. Our courts need to see that medical malpractice caps negatively impact real people.
If you were harmed by a medical care provider in the state of Florida, contact a South Florida injury lawyer at the law firm of Lawlor, Winston, White & Murphey as soon as possible. Don’t wait to file your malpractice claim.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphy. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”