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AMA Study on Medical Malpractice Is Misleading

These days it is often impossible to talk about medical malpractice without instigating an endless political debate about whether these lawsuits cause healthcare costs to increase, whether reforms are needed, and, if so, what form they should take. However, the debate too often delves into irrational name-calling and exaggeration, instead of focusing on reaching the best balance between the rights of patients to receive standard care and the doctor’s need to avoid frivolous claims.

Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers at Levin & Perconti do not ignore the debate; we fully recognize and believe in our role as important advocates for injured patients. Our experience in the field has emphasized that knee-jerk reform efforts (like generic medical malpractice caps on award amounts) bear no logical connection to the basic sense of fairness of responsibility in the patient-doctor relationship. Attempts to impose “caps” on damages is nothing more than a politically organized group (healthcare administrators and medical doctors) attempting to skim away at the rights of a smaller, more diverse, less politically active group (victims of medical errors).

Fortunately for us in Illinois, our Supreme Court recently struck down a state cap on parts of these damages, recognizing the law’s unconstitutional violation of the role of judges and juries in our system.

What is frequently forgotten in these medical malpractice debates is the fact that large medical malpractice awards are only given after the time-tested protocols of our legal system play out: each party in a dispute presents their side of the case in a fair, impartial setting in front of an outside jury of their peers that impartially deliberates and collectively decides the correct outcome.

This legal system was literally written into our nation’s founding documents as the premier method to dispense justice in our society. The bedrock of our entire system of government should never be wiped away merely because a particular political advocacy group wants special protection for themselves.

Yet, even after courts reject medical malpractice caps, the healthcare community continues to produce studies that attempt to skew the “problem” of medical malpractice lawsuits. Parts of the medical community are attempting to manufacture an inter-professional war by claiming that trial lawyers are constantly assaulting doctors with lawsuits. Instead, the medical community should recognize that a certain number of particularly negligent doctors are causing a large proportion of the errors, and the system helps to weed out these negligent practitioners so that they harm fewer patients.

On top of that, as American Association of Justice spokesman Ray De Lorenzi pointed out after reviewing the latest AMA study from AMED News, critics seeking to strip away victim rights seem to forget that 98,000 patients die every single year from errors that should have been prevented. Treating medical mistakes cost consumers nearly $20 billion each year. And those numbers have not been decreasing. If reform is needed, it should focus on stopping medical mistakes and saving lives, not limiting the legal rights of the innocent victims of those errors.