By Harvey F. Wachsman
If there is a medical malpractice crisis today, it has nothing to do with lawsuits. Studies show that from 100,000 to 195,000 people die each year because of malpractice in American hospitals. That doesn't begin to count the hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed by serious injuries caused by negligence. The true crisis is an epidemic of medical malpractice.
Those who attack lawyers and demand radical changes to the legal system are blaming the messengers and trying to punish the victims. Lawsuits are the only protection the public has against negligent physicians.
Imagine being an expectant mother in a hospital. Your obstetrician decides it's unnecessary to come to the hospital right away. The fetal monitor shows signs that the baby is not getting enough oxygen. When the physician finally delivers the baby hours later, the child is severely brain damaged.
The medical establishment and insurance companies would like that mother to be forced into some sort of "alternative dispute resolution," which would prevent her from suing. They would like to have secret arbitrations, with no juries and no public scrutiny. They would like to cap the amount that a jury could award to her and her baby. But that child will need a lifetime of attention - special schools, a handicapped-accessible home, extensive medical care and someone to take care of him if he outlives his parents.
Tort-reform advocates also would prefer a system in which offenders aren't blamed and there is no accountability. But the health care system needs more accountability, not less. Most physicians are dedicated, diligent people, but those who are not should have a spotlight shined on them. More...