I hear all the time about the need for tort reform…especially in my field of law practice – representing the victims of medical malpractice. Friends and acquaintances say, “your lawsuits are driving up the cost of medical care and running the good doctors out of the profession.”
My response – HOGWASH!
Most Americans are familiar with the very drastic tort reform measures enacted in Texas. In 2003, the Texas Legislature passed a law to reform the state’s civil justice system. The bill addressed issues such as: limits on noneconomic damages; product liability reform; punitive damages; medical liability reform joint and several liability; and class action reform. Those who pushed for the reforms told the voters that, if passed, the new law would reduce the costs of medical care and keep all of the good doctors in Texas…and as a side-benefit the new law would put those greedy plaintiffs and their lawyers in there rightful place.
How did it work out for Texas? A recent study reported by Public Citizen indicates it did not work out very well.
The two groups that have benefited the most from the restrictions are liability insurance companies and physicians, Public Citizen found. Since the caps were imposed, doctors have been held less accountable for their errors. The number of payments made on behalf of Texas doctors to compensate patients for medical errors fell more than 50 percent between 2003 and 2010, and the value of those payments fell by nearly 65 percent, without adjusting for inflation. But insurance companies have cut doctors’ malpractice insurance premiums more slowly. Viewed in the contexts of starkly rising costs and diminished accessibility of care, these figures show that regular Texans have received nothing in exchange for ceding their legal rights.