Tort Reform Hurts People November 30, 2009.

On the surface, tort reform sounds like it might be a fine idea, but the underlying premise is flawed and would actually hurt those it is supposed to help.

The great health care debate has actually dragged up more for discussion besides health issues, and one of those issues deals with the concept of tort reform. Tort reform sounds like not a bad idea until one really takes a close look at what it means to victims of medical malpractice whose lives have been devastated.

Typically, medical malpractice lawsuits that make it to court are the ones in which the victim has sustained serious injuries; injuries that have altered their lifestyles to the point where they need ongoing medical care of one type or another. They may also need therapy, medications, regular treatments, counseling, in-home care and renovations to make their house livable. In instances such as this, juries have been known to hand out high awards to pay for such serious damages.

Tort reform would stack the deck even further against the victims. Physicians and hospitals already have a significant advantage going into a medical malpractice lawsuit because med mal cases have the shortest statute of limitations for any case. Mounting a complex med mal lawsuit with only a year to get things together is nigh onto impossible. While the clock is ticking in favor of the defendants, the plaintiffs are struggling to get evidence together to prove their case.

In addition, a lawsuit cannot be filed against a doctor or hospital unless it has been certified by a qualified medical expert to be a lawsuit of merit so these are not frivolous lawsuits.

If these points are not enough to ponder, add in that any incriminating evidence or information uncovered by internal investigations into an injury or death cannot be discovered by the patient or the patient’s family. Talk about prejudicial actions.

Furthermore, insurance companies protecting the doctor and/or hospital have financial and other resources and access to experts that far exceed the resources available to most patients. Add to this that the primary evidence in any medical malpractice case is the medical chart, which is authored by the doctor(s) and other medical personnel at a hospital, and the patient has no say in what goes in that chart, nor any control over it. Once again, the deck is stacked in favor of the medical profession and the victim is left hanging out in the wind trying to make a case.

Unfortunately for the victims of med mal, jurors are usually more sympathetic to a doctor being sued than the patient, particularly if it is the patient’s family who has brought the suit to court. Even if a plaintiff/patient does stick to their guns and pursues the case, 48 out of 50 states have capped the limit on the amount of damages that may be recovered. This cap has no relation to actual injuries and is only in place so the insurance companies may have a "fixed" cost when insuring negligent doctors.

In a nutshell, tort reform means patients having to give up constitutional rights just to have access to health care, and insurance companies coming out ahead by limiting their claim payouts. The person who needs the most help is the patient, and tort reform does anything "but" help a patient who has suffered at the hands of the medical establishment. Victims of medical malpractice need to get an experienced med mal attorney to help level the playing field.