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Medical Negligence – Claims and Lawsuits

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This week there were two medical malpractice Bills introduced into the United States Senate–both involved caps on lawsuits. The way a Bill works in the Senate (if you recall from those Saturday morning cartoons) is that a Bill will pass (and move onto the House) with a majority vote of the Senate. However, the minority may delay voting on the Bill by what’s referred to as a filibuster. A supermajority of 60 votes may overcome the filibuster and proceed to a Senate vote. These two Bills, which required a supermajority for passage, could not muster even a Senate majority to pass–one Bill receiving 48 votes; the other Bill receiving 49 votes.

This is a significant result. First, the area of the law probably most susceptible to legislation is the area of medical negligence claims. The general favor of the medical profession combined with self-serving interests involving the flawed reasoning (see below) that frivolous medical negligence claims increase health insurance costs make this a fertile area for change. That supporters failed to obtain even a straight majority will hopefully get the Senate back to issues with actual significance–like embryonic stem cell research, the war in the Middle East, Immigration and New Orleans for starters.

Interesting, Harvard Medical School just concluded and published a very significant (in terms of study size and results) study of malpractice claims. Not surprising, the study revealed that most claims involved serious injury or death, that the large majority of claims were meritorious and that frivolous claims do not have significant bearing on the health care system. The study involved sampling from obstetrics, surgery, missed or delayed diagnosis and medication errors, which apprently comprise most medical malpractice claims. The study concluded that

[The] findings suggest that moves to curb frivolous litigation, if successful, will have a relatively limited effect on the caseload and costs of litigation. The vast majority of resources go toward resolving and paying claims that involve errors. A higher-value target for reform than discouraging claims that do not belong in the system would be streamlining the processing of claims that do belong.

Clearly, this is a victory for victim’s rights and hopefully will lead to better knowledge and less distraction in the area of medical negligence claims.