Tyler, Texas


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Bruce Roberts
Bruce Roberts
Contributor •

Is the Medical Malpractice Crisis Real?

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On every television channel and in every newspaper it seems at least once a week you hear some story about the medical malpractice crisis. Politicians and tort reformers use this alleged epidemic of frivolous lawsuits against doctors to assert that this epidemic is forcing doctors to leave whatever state the politician is in; and that patients cannot get necessary medical care because doctors are afraid to treat them all due to the alleged medical malpractice crisis.

These politicians and tort reformers have used the alleged crisis to enact legislation that significantly curtails, if not outright kills, a patient’s right to compensation for being negligently injured or maimed by healthcare providers. In 2003, the Texas legislature, believing this crisis to be real, severely limited, if not effectively eliminated, the rights of many patients who seek access to the courts if they were injured by a healthcare professional no matter how negligent the conduct. The Texas legislature went so far as to amend the Constitution to make sure a patient’s access to justice was restricted.

Now it turns out, according to report by Public Citizen that this medical malpractice crisis may not in fact exist.

First and foremost, as we all knew, most doctors are good doctors. It is the few bad doctors that the American Medical Association refuses to police that cause most of the problems. According to the report, 5.9 percent of U.S. doctors were responsible for 57.8 percent of the medical malpractice payment claims. Not only are these few doctors injuring significant numbers of patients, but because the number of claims made and the reaction by legislatures, the rights of patients to receive compensation are actually being curtailed.

More importantly however is the fact that there may not even be a crisis even taking into account the actions of this small number of doctors. According to the report, the number of malpractice payments has declined 15.4 percent between 1991 and 2005.

When adjusted for inflation, the average annual payment for verdicts declined 8 percent between 1991 and 2005.

Those multimillion-dollar verdicts we all hear about are, in fact, less than 3 percent of all the payments made in 2005.

As far as frivolous claims, over 64 percent of the payments in 2005 involved death or significant injuries. Payments for “insignificant injuries” were less than one-third of 1 percent of the payments made in 2005.

So, does every injured patient actually run to a lawyer and sue his doctor? Apparently not. According to Public Citizen Report, only 5 to 10 percent of those people killed by medical errors actually got compensation.