Trial Lawyers Fight Proposals for Tort Reform
The American Association for Justice — formerly known as the American Trial Lawyers Association — is gearing up to defend against proposals for tort reform as the answer to the high cost of health care.
“Limiting the legal rights of patients will do nothing to lower the costs of health care,” said Anthony Tarricone, the association’s president, on a conference call with reporters this afternoon. Tort reform became a rallying cry at town hall meetings in August when lawmakers talked to constituents in their districts about health care.
“The health care bill must reduce medical errors,” not reduce patient’s rights, he said, noting the shocking statistic that “98,000 people die every year from preventable medical errors. And that does not include those who are seriously injured.”
In fact, he said, studies show that medical errors are “the sixth leading cause of death in America—the equivalent of two jumbo jets crashing every day.”
The lawyers’ association opposes proposals to cap injured patients’ damages or to limit their right to sue — proposals often favored by physicians’ groups and Republicans. In fact, as I’ve reported before, public health experts agree that medical malpractice defense costs constitute a tiny portion of the nation’s spending on health care, while medical errors can actually be very costly. Meanwhile, states that have passed severe tort reform laws limiting damages have not seen a corresponding drop in health care costs.
Still, the existing medical malpractice system that requires injured patients to hire a lawyer and costly experts and fight their cases out in court for years isn’t generally considered the most efficient system, either. But experts agree that a frequently-cited alternative — a government-run panel of health experts that would hear and decide malpractice claims — would cost far more than the current system, and likely wouldn’t garner significant support from either major political party.