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A New Perspective on Medical Malpractice Law

National Public Radio News shared a story this week that touches on the difference between fact and fiction when it comes to medical malpractice lawsuits, both in Illinois and throughout the country. The article reiterated a point that we have consistently made: the idea that these suits are unfair windfalls are misguided. The stereotype that perpetuates among some suggest that most medical malpractice suits which are filed result in significant sums of money being awarded to the victim. That is not the case.

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that closely examined all medical malpractice claims over a decade and a half found that few of them resulted in any pay out at all. From 1991 to 2005, nearly 80% of all lawsuits did not lead to any compensation for the plaintiff. Of course, that figure includes settlement payouts. Therefore, receiving any money following the filing of a medical malpractice suit is much more the exception than the rule.

However, despite the information that continues to roll out confirming the fact that these suits are by no means guaranteed money grabs for the involved parties, many advocates continue to push policy changes that would severely damage the justice system. Virtually all of these proposals are unnecessary and unfair. Some of the more far reaching propositions would be particularly harmful, resulting in many victims of the worst acts of neglect receiving little to no redress from the wrongdoer. These changes would also remove a documented incentive on the part of all medical providers who enact policy changes that maximize patient safety.

Some proposals are less damaging than others. One New York plan involves the expediting of settlements. These plans involve the intervention by judges, who insist on negotiation between the parties from the outside, getting parties thinking about the fairness of the claims from the beginning. The program therefore helps to speed up a process that is often drug out as long as possible. The judge in New York that pioneered the process explains that the forced negotiation is most beneficial in obstetrics cases which can involve significant sums of money, because the lifetime damage caused by birth injuries can be significant.

Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers understand that certain alternative dispute options may be helpful in certain contexts. There is nothing wrong with having parties negotiate early in the process to facilitate fair exchange of information and honesty about the specifics of the claim that may expedite the legal process. The discovery system in particular has a way of driving up overall legal costs and dragging out for considerable lengths of time the ultimate resolution of the claim. However, there is a huge difference between policy and procedural changes that seek to expedite the legal process and those that simply take away rights of injury victims. Unfortunately, many lobbying groups continue to push for changes that arbitrarily limit the right of all victims to receive compensation deemed fair by a jury in any circumstance. That one-size-fits-all approach goes against the entire system of justice guaranteed by our Founders and understood as a bedrock of the American system for hundreds of years.

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