MEDICAL MALPRACTICE IN PRESIDENT OBAMA’S STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS

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On January 25, 2011, President Barack Obama raised the issue of medical malpractice reform in his State of the Union address by saying that he is “willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year — medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits.”

What is a frivolous lawsuit? In legal terms, a “frivolous lawsuit” is one having no legal basis or merit, often filed to harass or extort money from the defendant. Most people use the word “frivolous” to describe someone or something that is unconcerned about or lacking any serious purpose. Proponents of tort reform often argue that “frivolous” medical malpractice lawsuits increase insurance premiums for hospital and physicians, increase health care costs, and do not allow doctors to practice medicine.

This begs the questions – are there really that many “frivolous” medical malpractice lawsuits in the United States? Tort reform supporters often cite a 2006 Harvard School of Public Health Study as evidence that there are too many frivolous med mal lawsuits. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Tex), who is the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, and Darren McKinney of the American Tort Reform Association, both publicly cited the Harvard study for the proposition that 40 percent of medical malpractice suits filed in the U.S. are “without merit” or “groundless.”

It is clear that those who rely on the 2006 Harvard Study to promote the idea that “frivolous” lawsuits have a severe impact on health care didn’t actually read it. Or, if they did, they chose to ignore that authors’ conclusion that efforts to “curb frivolous litigation, if successful, will have a relatively limited effect on the caseload and costs of litigation (emphasis added).” As William Sage, now the vice provost for health affairs at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law, said when the Harvard study was published, “the major problem out there is medical errors that are not compensated, rather than frivolous claims that are compensated.” The most seriously injured patients are the ones whose monetary compensation is severely limited and do not receive the justice they so desperately deserve.

For more information, or if you or a loved one, have been injured as the result of medical malpractice in California, please contact the experienced lawyers at Mulligan, Banham & Findley. Our telephone number is 619-238-8700.

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