The Journal of the American Medical Association found that medical negligence is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., just behind heart disease and cancer. Medical malpractice lawsuits can be contentious and complex cases. In recent years, a push has been made to reform medical malpractice laws and limit how much money patients are able to win in the event of doctor negligence.
The crux of the debate centers around “damages caps.” The term “damages” refers to the money an injured person seeks from the doctor or other healthcare provider that caused the injury. Damages caps, understandably, seek to limit the amount a patient can win in a medical malpractice case. New Jersey currently has a $350,000 cap on punitive damages in medical malpractice cases, but no cap on compensatory damages (which are awarded far more often).
The main argument for medical malpractice reform comes from doctors, insurance companies, healthcare providers, and other groups. Many argue that medical malpractice litigation is inefficient, expensive, and takes doctors away from dealing with actual patients. In addition, medical malpractice lawsuits have spurred some doctors to stop practicing or stop performing certain (often high-risk) procedures. Proponents of reform argue that talented, well-meaning doctors are driven away from practicing by one accident or one medical malpractice claim.
Another key argument for medical malpractice reform is the rising cost of medical malpractice liability. The danger of a costly medical malpractice lawsuit causes doctors and hospitals to pay more for liability insurance, which drives up health care costs as a whole. A Forbes report found that over $3 billion was spent in medical malpractice payouts in 2012, adding up to one payout every 43 minutes. Proponents of reform say that many medical malpractice suits are meritless, but still costly and time-consuming to defend against.
But opponents of medical malpractice reform argue that this increase is due to an increase in medical errors, not an increase in frivolous lawsuits. Plus, a CNN report found that only 22 percent of medical mistakes result in medical malpractice lawsuits, meaning there are certainly more instances of medical malpractice than we even know about. In terms of liability insurance, many factors go into the rate, and opponents of reform argue that blaming the increase on medical malpractice litigation is oversimplifying the issue.
Most proponents of medical malpractice reform take issue with the large, multi-million dollar medical malpractice cases. However, opponents of reform argue that these cases are the most crucial because they involve the most serious medical errors and the most serious injuries.
Visit our Medical Malpractice page for more information about medical malpractice claims and the legal process involved.