Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tort Reform: Fact or Fiction?

The American Association for Justice (AAJ) article appearing today in the Huffington Post calls the proposed tort reform measures what they really are: a DISTRACTION from the Health Care debate. When you examine each of the main reasons proponents of tort reform routinely give as facts, they turn out to be myths. The AAJ explains the key myths and facts:
Myth #1: There are too many "frivolous" malpractice lawsuits.
Fact: There's an epidemic of medical negligence, not lawsuits. Only one in eight people injured by medical negligence ever file suit. Civil filings have declined eight percent over the last decade, and are less than one percent of the whole civil docket. A 2006 Harvard study found that 97 percent of claims were meritorious, stating, "portraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown."
Myth #2: Malpractice claims drive up health care costs.
Fact: According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the total spent defending claims and compensating victims of medical negligence was just 0.3% of health care costs, and the Congressional Budget Office and Government Accountability Office have made similar findings.
Myth #3: Doctors are fleeing.
Fact: Then where are they going? According to the American Medical Association's own data, the number of practicing physicians in the United States has been growing steadily for decades. Not only are there more doctors, but the number of doctors is increasing faster than population growth. Despite the cries of physicians fleeing multiple states, the number of physicians increased in every state, and only four states saw growth slower than population growth; these four states all have medical malpractice caps.
Myth #4: Malpractice claims drive up doctors' premiums.
Fact: Empirical research has found that there is little correlation between malpractice payouts and malpractice premiums paid by doctors. A study of the leading medical malpractice insurance companies' financial statements by former Missouri Insurance Commissioner Jay Angoff found that these insurers artificially raised doctors' premiums and misled the public about the nature of medical negligence claims. A previous AAJ report on malpractice insurers found they had earnings higher than 99% of Fortune 500 companies.
Myth #5: Tort reform will lower insurance rates.
Fact: Tort reforms are passed under the guise that they will lower physicians' liability premiums. This does not happen. While insurers do pay out less money when damages awards are capped, they do not pass the savings along to doctors by lowering premiums. Even the most ardent tort reformers have been caught stating that tort reform will have no effect on insurance rates.

As a medical malpractice and injury law firm, we see firsthand how often medical mistakes are made that destroy or permanently change lives. According to the AAJ article, over 98,000 people die every year from preventable medical errors, which is the same as having two 737 jets crashing every day for a whole year.

Instead of focusing on tort law changes that won't fix health care and won't reduce insurance premiums, let's make sure people aren't injured or killed in the first place. Not only will that lower costs, but most importantly, will improve health care for everyone.

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed as a result of a medical mistake or medical error, please contact us now for a free consultation about your potential claim.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Keep Your Trick or Treaters Safe on Halloween

Halloween is an exciting time in the lives of youngsters who have been carefully planning and selecting their costumes for weeks now. As children look forward to all the excitement of dressing up and going door to door to receive their Tricks and Treats, parents need to remember a few important tips to help ensure the safety of their children.

Twice as many children will be killed while walking on Halloween than any other day of the year, according to Safe Kids USA. Also, Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, when there is typically increased traffic at night with many people going out to eat dinner and perhaps enjoying an alcoholic beverage or two. Drivers can be easily distracted by the entertaining parade of costumes going down the sidewalk, increasing the likelihood of a pedestrian getting hit by a car. Parents need to be especially vigilant to protect their kids.

Safe Kids USA gives the following recommendations to parents and children to ensure that trick or treating remains a safe and fun time for all. Children should:

1. Always trick-or-treat with an adult until age 10
2. Only trick-or-treat in familiar areas that are well lit
3. Cross streets at corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks look left, right and left again when crossing; always walk, don’t run, when crossing streets
4. Make eye contact with drivers and watch for cars that are turning or backing up
5. Walk on sidewalks or paths; if there are no sidewalks, walk facing traffic as far to the left as possible
6. Never dart out into the street or cross in between parked cars
7. Wear light-colored, flame-retardant, costumes decorated with retro-reflective tape or stickers
8. Wear well-fitting, sturdy shoes to prevent trips and falls
9. Carry a flashlight or glow stick to increase visibility to drivers
10. Wear face paint and makeup; a mask can restrict a child’s vision

Have a fun and safe Halloween from all of us at the Studstill Firm, LLP!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Debating Health Care Reform and Damage Caps

The Atlanta Journal Constitution features a good opinion piece on the health care reform debate and analyzes the Pros and Cons of damage caps on liability. Personally, I think the Cons are stronger arguments. Here is a link to the article in the AJC - it is well worth reading. Let me know what you think.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Georgia Medical Malpractice Caps

This week, the Georgia Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of a Georgia law that puts a limit (cap) on the amount of damages a victim of medical malpractice can obtain. Currently, O.C.G.A. § 51-13-1 (commonly referred to as SB3) limits the non-economic damages (also known as pain and suffering damages) in a medical malpractice case to $350,000. The relevant portion of SB3 reads as follows:

"In any verdict returned or judgment entered in a medical malpractice action, including an action for wrongful death, against one or more health care providers, the total amount recoverable by a claimant for noneconomic damages in such action shall be limited to an amount not to exceed $350,000.00, regardless of the number of defendant health care providers against whom the claim is asserted or the number of separate causes of action on which the claim is based."

This means that no matter how severe an individual's pain and suffering is or how much a jury awards to a plaintiff for their pain and suffering, the plaintiff will only be allowed to collect $350,000.

But what is pain and suffering worth? What is the pain and suffering worth that Mrs. Nestlehutt endured when her plastic surgeon so severly damaged the skin on her face that her face literally fell off? The jury in her case said it was worth $900,000.

The case is Nestlehutt v. Atlanta Oculoplastic Surgery, P.C., d/b/a Oculus and was filed in 2007. The trial court judge, Judge Diane Bessen, ruled that the cap on non-economic damages violates the Constitution on 3 grounds: the right to trial by jury, the separation of powers doctrine, and the equal protection of the laws. Judge Bessen wrote:

"A limit or cap on noneconomic damages, however, invades the right to a jury trial by usurping one of the fact-finding responsibilities of the jury. If the amount of noneconomic damages awarded by the jury exceeds the statutory cap, this Code section automatically and arbitrarily reduces the verdict, without consideration of the evidence, the record, or any other fact produced at trial and found by the jury. The limitations imposed by O.C.G.A. 51-13-1 render the right of the jury to assess damages meaningless… The cap so interferes with the determination of the jury that it renders the right of a jury trial wholly unavailable."

The question the Georgia Supreme Court faces is this: is it proper for the Georgia Legislature to make a law that takes away our firmly entrenched right to a jury in order to keep more money in the pockets of doctors and insurance companies? The news media goes to great lengths to spin tort reform as a way to reduce healthcare costs. But the numbers don't support their claims. Is a 2% reduction in medical spending really worth taking away the rights of patients? Our hope is that the Georgia Supreme Court will curb this legislation that protects only doctors at the expense of those they hurt the most. We will all have to wait and see.

You can watch the video here and listen to the arguments from both sides and then decide for yourself. Feel free to post your comments or opinions on the arguments.