What is one of the main issues of facing physicians today? If we were to poll physicians, for many of them it would be the threat of frivolous malpractice suits. In many states, the threat of being named in a frivolous malpractice suit has risen greatly.
Many doctors, faced with ever-increasing malpractice insurance premiums, have gone out of business. Others are retiring early. Some are moving to states that have enacted tort reform, while rural states without significant tort reform are losing doctors hand over fist.
Suing for medical malpractice is big business. Many attorneys have made fortunes and careers out of this lucrative but also highly destructive area.
Evidence suggests that the costs of such cases and the awards given have spiraled out of control. Since the mid 1970s litigation costs have increased annually by about 12% per annum, and in one recent year, medical liability awards went up by about 43%. In 2004, this rise was just under 10%, up to $28.7 billion.
At Medical Justice we specialize in preventing frivolous malpractice lawsuits; the vast majority of which never make it to trial, precisely because they are meritless. But they provide an extra burden to the legal and health care systems, producing extra stress for patients and doctors alike.
Medical Justice recognizes that there may be times when medical malpractice has taken place. And those who are injured by negligence deserve rapid, just, and reasonable compensation. And, we recognize that patient safety is still an issue in 2008. But the simple fact remains that the majority of lawsuits filed against physicians are deemed without merit. And the legal system has been proven impotent in making patients safer. If the legal system was the answer to patient safety, the problem would have been solved. Indeed, fear of litigation makes it harder to detect systemic flaws when the reward for “disclosure” is punishment. And the sad, but rational response is to ignore obvious flaws and remain silent.
We at Medical Justice work to protect our physician members proactively against such frivolous suits. Reports from our members have shown time and time again that a number of cases have been immediately dropped when the prosecuting lawyer has discovered that the physician is a Medical Justice member. Why? The price for taking a meritless case forward is higher. Our plan members are sued at a much lower rate than non-members. Membership deters frivolous lawsuits and allows physicians to focus their time and energies on their primary task, taking care of patients.
Federal tort reform is unlikely to be on the to-do list in 2008. So, it seems likely that frivolous medical malpractice suits are here to stay, but so are we, working proactively for our physician members.