Trial lawyers discount effects of medical malpractice litigation

Chris Rizo Nov. 12, 2009, 12:02am

Anthony Tarricone

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-Medical malpractice litigation is not the albatross weighing down the U.S. health care system that legal reformers say it is, the nation's trial lawyers argue.

The American Association for Justice, which represents plaintiffs' attorneys, has released a series of Internet videos that seeks to justify malpractice lawsuits against doctors, which critics say is responsible partly for the nation's skyrocketing health care costs.

One of the videos features the family of Blake Fought, a 19-year-old Virginia man with ulcerative colitis who died because the group said a nurse improperly removed an intravenous line.

"Blake is just one of 98,000 patients that die each year from preventable medical errors, equivalent to two 737s crashing every day for an entire year," American Association for Justice President Anthony Tarricone said in a statement. "As tort reform is marketed as a panacea for health care reform, we know it won't bring down skyrocketing health care costs or help the 98,000 patients that lose their lives every year from medical errors. Real health care reform should put safety first, not use patients' rights as bargaining chips."

The overwhelming majority of U.S. physicians -- 85 percent -- said the threat of medical malpractice litigation is influencing their practice of medicine, a survey published Friday by Atlanta-based Jackson Healthcare found.

The American Association for Justice, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, has vigorously opposed efforts in Congress - mostly led by Republicans - to reform the nation's medical malpractice laws.

Release of the group's ads follows passage in the U.S. House of Representatives last week of legislation that could overhaul how the nation's health care insurance companies do business.

Critics have called the narrowly passed bill a boon for trial lawyers.

One provision of the bill in particular has received intense criticism. It's Section 2531 (4)b.

The language would allow the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to give grants to states that overhaul their medical malpractice systems so long as their reforms don't limit attorneys' fees or impose caps on damages.

The nearly $1 trillion House bill also would bar insurers from denying coverage and prohibit the insurance industry from charging higher premiums to consumers with a preexisting condition.

The bill contains also a public insurance option, which proponents say is aimed at injecting more competition into the health insurance marketplace.

House Republicans had called for a cap on punitive damages and a narrowing of the statute of limitations on malpractice claims but their suggestions were rejected by Democrats.

The director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, has said as much as $54 billion could be saved over the next 10 years if Congress enacts legal reforms including a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering and a $500,000 cap on punitive damages and restricting the statute of limitations on malpractice claims.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at

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American Association for Justice
777 6th Street Northwest
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