Over the past week we discussed how virtually all of the claims made by proponents of tort reform do not hold water. Of course, in focusing so much on the wrongful claims about “benefits” of tort reform we risk ignoring perhaps the most important issue of all: the negative effect these laws have on patient safety and fairness. Even if all of the tort reformers claims were true (which they are not) that still does not mean that it is logical to take away redress for medical victims and lower accountability for those who commit preventable errors.
Once again the Center for Justice & Democracy Med Mal Briefing Book is helpful in illustrating the point. Over a decade ago the Institute of Medicine noted that nearly 100,000 patients may die and nearly $30 billion spent every as a result of medical errors. Recent work since then shows that the scope of the problem remains essentially unchanged.
Even the Institute of Medicine noted this, writing in a report this year that “the nation has yet to see the broad improvement in safety, accessibility, quality, or efficiency that the American people need and deserve.” The same report pointed out that, if all states were at the level of the best state in terms of quality care, than 75,000 deaths could be spared.
But it is not just the Institute of Medicine. A Milliman Inc. analysis found that over a seven year period, looking just at insurance claim information, about 564,000 inpatient errors and 1.8 million outpatient service mistakes were made. The cost of fixing these errors was over $17 billion in one year alone. That study found that the most costly error were preventable infections following surgery. The most common individual mistake was the development of pressure sores. The attorneys working at our firm have helped many local residents in Chicago and throughout Illinois on surgical errors and bed sores–far too often they are directly related to basic mistakes in caregiving.
Redress and Accountability
It should never be forgotten that, at the end of the day, the system which these “reformers” so desperately want to change is rooted in basic fairness and common sense. Those hurt by the negligence of others use a neutral system to seek recovery for the losses they suffered as a result of that unreasonableness. There will naturally be disagreement about the total cost of those losses. That is why the civil justice system allows a neutral third-party (judge or jury) to hear the evidence and arguments from both sides before determining liability and damages.
Tort reform upends that logical system by imposing arbitrary rules on all cases without any consideration of the details of the case. It makes little sense.
Perhaps worst of all, it acts to slow safety improvement With less risk of full accountability for errors, it is sometimes more financially feasible for care providers to forgo safety changes that might require some cost to implement. Lives are lost as a result.
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