Recently, columnist Harold Mandel, a supporter of tort reform, examined the various reforms made around the country, including in West Virginia. He concludes that despite tort reforms that have already been made, medical liabilities that still exist threaten to bury the medical profession.
He claims that the tort reforms that have been enacted or upheld in various states have resulted in lower liability premiums and fewer doctors fleeing to states with lower caps. Mandel considers it a victory that this past July, the West Virginia Supreme Court upheld a reduction of the non-economic damages cap from $1 million to $250,000. At the same time, he frowns upon rulings by state supreme courts in Illinois and Georgia, which struck down caps of $350,000 and $500,000 as being unconstitutional.
Mandel believes that where people are allowed to sue their physicians, danger follows. Doctors who have to defend against malpractice suits pay an average of $47,158, an increase of 63% since 2001. In New York and Florida, it is not uncommon for doctors to pay premiums of around $200,000. And surgeons who get sued are — not surprisingly — more likely to burn out and experience depression.
What Mandel and other tort reform supporters will never say is that medical malpractice suits may be perfectly justified. In fact, a cap of $250,000 may be far too low to make up for the pain and suffering caused by a completely preventable error.
Over 200,000 deaths occur each year nationally due to physician error, and an untold number of injuries and overdoses. Most patients don’t have the option of reviewing a doctor’s success rate or the death/error rate from hospital to hospital. Instead, we must trust what the doctor says and submit to his or her care. When something goes wrong through no fault of our own, we want answers. Many hospitals are surprisingly — or maybe unsurprisingly — unwilling to give them. Research has shown that hospitals that disclose preventable errors to patients are more likely to face lawsuits — so hospitals don’t reveal them. One recent study found that hospital underreporting is greater than ever. Among Medicare beneficiaries, hospital reporting systems captured only 14% of the patient harm events.
We at the Wolfe Law Firm don’t criticize tort reform because, as West Virginia medical mistakes attorneys, we want business. We criticize because too often, lawsuits are the only way that people can hold doctors and hospitals accountable. Hospitals won’t admit their problems upfront and won’t admit mistakes after the fact. Meanwhile, you or your loved one are still suffering from the results of a botched procedure or an incorrect prescription. It impacts your ability to work, sleep, or simply function like a human being. No stress that a doctor faces from a lawsuit can possibly match the stress and depression that you must cope with on a daily basis.
So while we may sympathize with well-meaning doctors who must face a medical malpractice lawsuit, we won’t jump on the tort reform bandwagon. A non-economic damages award of $250,000 will never compensate for losing the life you once had to a preventable error.