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Reaching the limit

Should there be limits on the amount of money a patient can be awarded in a malpractice lawsuit?

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  • karen

    I recently read a book written by a cancer surgeon who practices at John Hopkins. Every day, there are 40 mistakes in the operating rooms of hospitals across this country every day from leaving instruments & sutures in the patient causing infections and longer hospital stays, operating on the wrong part of the patient’s body, ex. surgery needs to be done on patient’s left arm & instead patient’s right arm was operated on. Therefore, patient has to have a 2nd operation to correct problem on left arm. There are 2 types of surgeries: deep which means it takes longer for patient to heal, higher chance of infection & longer hospital stay and non-deep which means surgery isn’t invasive. Most operations are deep.because hospitals make more money. The patients are not informed of these mistakes, patients just think they got a staff infection & that’s why their hospital stay is longer. If doctors would police themselves & report incompetent doctors so that these doctors will not be practicing any longer there would be no need for malpractice lawsuits.

  • Mike Mathwig

    People SEE this video report. They do NOT yell to get a system like the european one in place. They start yaking and arguing about the one WE have………onandonandonand…..nothing! The majority of americans are disgusting.

  • Michael Moran

    The show didn’t give much attention to the problem of medical error – those number of patients harmed or killed was passed over too quickly. In my state your car in the hospital parking lot has more rights than you do when you are a patient in the hospital – if someone does $25,000 damage to your car and doesn’t report it they could face criminal charges – but if you sustain $25,000 in medical damage due to error and it is not reported there is no criminal sanctions. In an case I was involved in the doctor blamed the hospital nurses and the nurses blamed the doctor – it took four years and almost half a million dollar in fees to find out what actually happened (and by the way the taxpayer was the first person reimbursed with claims on the settlement by Medicare and Medicaid). I don’t know if PBS has shown it but to understand the politics of this conflict the documentary “Hot Coffee” is great.

  • Charles

    I have been a medical maplractice lawyer — mostly defense side — for more than twenty years.
    I am a frequent critic of PBS’s routine left-leaning news bias. But this story was exceedingly well-produced. It was, as they say, fair and balanced.
    There is one notable exception that I would take with the narrative. In the course of negotiating the Affordable Care Act, one of the many dealbreakers for Republican support was that the Obama Administration and leading Democrats would allow virtually no serious medical malpractice reform in the Act. And the line from Obama’s speech before the Joint Session of Congress about his committing funds to for individual state pilot programs to study medical errors and improvement of care was never a serious attempt to engage with individual state tort reform efforts. The grant amounts were puny; the subjects had little to do with malpractice litigation; it was an administration smokescreen, to avoid the subject of malpractice reform as a national project.
    Malpractice law is admittedly a body of law that is uniquely governed by states, and not by federal law, for the most part. And state-by-state, across the country, the extent to which individual states have committed themselves to tort reform is inversely proportional to the strength of the trial lawyers’ lobby in that state. Trial lawyers account for a startling percentage of campaign funding for Democrats in state elections, and particularly for state judicial elections.
    But for the uninitiated; there are few subjects to my knowledge — not abortion, not military spending, not immigration — that divides the two parties more clearly than tort reform. Almost every Republican I can think of would like to see more tort reform, and almost every Democrat I can think of will oppose it.
    Which really makes for an odd question: With so many people suggesting that the United States is the only industrialized nation without a national health care system, it needs to be clear that the United States is also the only industrialized nation with such a wild-west litigation culture in handling medical malpractice claims. Democrats might like us to have a health care system more like Denmark. But will the Democrats’ paymasters (the trial lawyers’ lobby) tolerate a malpractice claims system like Denmark’s?

    I thank Jeff Greenfield and company for a very fine episode of Need to Know

  • Jan B Newman MD , FACS

    Regardless of political affiliation, there needs to be malpractice reform. It makes part time practice untenable. It is a game for attorneys and a stressor which interferes with good patient care for physicians. Often the patient gets a fraction of the actual award,

  • Linda

    There should be a cap on trial attorneys who fish for malpractice. They are the only ones that get the payoff.

  • Charles

    Dear Dr. Newman,
    It is not necessary to speculate about whether “the patient gets a fraction of the actual award”; we know pretty much exactly what the patient gets. Somewhere between about 30% and 45%, less expenses (which can be five figures in a case going to trial) goes to the plaintiff attorneys.
    That contingency-fee relationship offends a great many of my physician clients. They hate the fact that so much money goes to the attorneys who have filed the lawsuit (malpractice complaints typically contain all sorts of inflammatory boilerplate that would have no place in a serious peer review setting) and that less money is going to the patients, with whom the doctors usually feel genuine empathy.
    But defense lawyers, insurance companies and even the plaintiffs’ bar know better.
    We know that the contingency fee system, which smacks of a kind of distasteful speculation in injury and misfortune, actually serves a useful purpose. What the contingency fee system promotes, is a kind of screening mechanism in the plaintiff lawyers’ offices. The contingency fee lawyers don’t want junk cases; they want good cases. And they will usually turn down the cases where they cannot generate a recovery for the client, because they only generate their fees out of their recoveries.
    Having said that, I can say with absolute certainty, that while “frivolous” cases are declining in most states, “meritless” cases (cases in which the defendant doctor did not violate the standard of care in the view of authoritative experts) are still filling the courthouses. If there is a grievous outcome (a child born with cerebral palsy; a death; the loss of a reproductive organ, etc), a lawyer might stil take a shot at it, thinking that even though the chances of winning in front of a jury is only 10%, the verdict amount could be $2 million (or $30 million, depending on the jurisdiction) and 10% of those potential amounts is $200,000 and $3 million, respectively. Take one-third of $200,000 or $3 million, and multiply it times an office full of such cases, and you are looking at a new Mercedes-Benz, a nice pair of Gucci loafers, and a handsome donation to the local Democratic Party to support state judges and legislators.

  • Doctor Who

    realize that as the dialysis case discussed in this Need to Know episode, bad things happen and WILL happen regardless of medical interventions. As I am wont to say, it is very hard to leave this world alive.

    The ACA does at least attempt to obviate one “rationale” for mega-awards – the insurance treatment cap (which has remained at $1mil since medical insurance began more than 1/2 century ago) and “pre-existing condition” exclusion to insurance. Even so, the awards are often ill-allocated by the recipients for future care.

    Further, MedMal rarely actually “assures quality care” as plaintiff attorneys argue. I’d argue the alternative.

    One tact that was NOT explored was the “acknowledge/apologize/search out root cause/process to assure ‘never again’/and provide as assistance as able”

  • Cyril

    Yes injury/loss should be compensated but when these are way too high it only make s the burden on insures pay more premiums. i

  • Louis

    I was a manager at a Target Retail store working 70 hour weeks, when i had foot pain that became chronic. I went to a foot specialist and he indicated that i needed reconstructive foot surgery. I asked about risks and he told me I would be back to work in 3 months and provided my boss with a letter to this effect. That was 3.5 years ago. The doctor cut off my heel and re-attached the heel back to my foot. after 11 months i was in worse chronic pain than prior to the surgery. the doctor indicated he did not know what was wrong and he needed to send me to a specialist??I found another doctor who indicated that my heel never fused back to my foot and the surgery needed to be done again. I was left fully disabled due to this surgery and have had 3 more surgeries to try and repair my foot due to nerve and tendon damage from these surgeries. All atempts have failed. I am from Texas were doctors cannot be sued and I had to sign waivers of death and comma for every surgery i had. (were are my consumer protection rights?) I have a 3 year old son and I have know way of saving for his education or providing a decent life if doctors were held more accountable in texas. Governor Perry has indicated that malpractic awards were out of control and the state put very string limits for compensation(if you can find a lawyer to take the a case) which has vertually eliminated malpractic suits at the cost of patients like myself.