Previous poll Next poll

Should there be limits placed on how much a patient can sue for in a medical malpractice lawsuit?

Response Percent Votes
60% 936
32% 509
Not sure
6% 102
Total 1547


RogueThrill 8 years, 8 months ago

I like how the idea of Death Panels is not ok (and rightfully so) but it IS acceptable for a panel of people to determine your max worth piecemeal should doctors do something wrong.

texburgh 8 years, 8 months ago

Here's an idea. Shut down about half the law schools in the country to dry up the supply of lawyers. Then we'll have a system in which lawyers only take cases with merit. Goodbye to the ambulance chasers and those who advertise, "I don't get one dime unless you get three!"

Perhaps we could also have a discussion about greed. The US is driven by greed. Look at the financial collapse. Look at the television shows that honor greed and wealth over character and decency.

This so-called "tort reform" only serves to punish those with legitimate claims and protects the insurance industry.

Flap Doodle 8 years, 8 months ago

As long as the trial lawyers have the DNC in their pocket tort reform will not happen.

Practicality 8 years, 8 months ago

There shouldn't be any "Medical Marijuana". It is a joke. Lawyers can have a hey-day with any doctor that prescribes this nonsense because you can not prescribe a "dose" in a controlled form. Doctors are just asking for trouble with that. Too many pot-heads can sue the doctor and say they made them an addict, (which wouldn't be true, but they could still probably win). This nonsense needs to be stopped. No Medical Marijuana. Period.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 8 months ago

Why do so many get sucked into " hating lawyers". There are lawyers on all sides of the aisle. So many dislike lawyers until one needs representation.

If one becomes a victim of a bad decision or sloppy work the answer likely would not yes.

Anyway lawsuits are a very tiny portion of medical insurance costs. The crooks in the medical insurance industry are pushing buttons cuz they know the public is easily deceived.

The most expensive medical insurance in the world uses the words lawsuits and lawyers to draw the public away from the larger costs of the most expensive medical insurance in the world

SUCH AS high dollar reckless spending on: • its bureaucracy • profits • high corporate salaries • advertising over charges • sales commissions • Shareholders CERTAINLY increases the cost of insurance • Special interest campaign dollars Golden parachutes * Politicians as shareholders:

How will HR 676 and ONLY HR 676 reduce costs by $350 billion annually? • Eliminates industry high dollar bureaucracy • Eliminates obscene profits • Eliminates high corporate salaries • Eliminates advertising Eliminates billions in over charges • Eliminates sales commissions • Eliminates high dollar Shareholder dividends • Eliminates Special interest campaign dollars Eliminates Golden parachutes

In general eliminates reckless spending of YOUR health care dollars

notajayhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

Liberty_One (Anonymous) says…

"Most of the cases get settled out of court because they have merit."

Sorry, Liberty, have to disagree with you on that one. Most of the cases get settled because it's cheaper to settle than to litigate. Virtually every insurance company, for that matter virtually every company big enough to retain their own attorneys, has a 'nuisance' fee they're willing to pay to save them the trouble of going to court, even if they're sure they'll win.

seriouscat 8 years, 8 months ago

I answered yes, but the question is worded in a stupid way because it doesn't specify compensatory vs. punitive damages. Compensatory damages should not be limited because that amount can be determined with some degree of rationality. Punitive damages should be because they are usually based upon the emotional response of the jury.

Satirical 8 years, 8 months ago

No limit on economic damages. Cap on non-economic damages .

imastinker 8 years, 8 months ago

Liberty - I'm guessing you've never been sued for any large amount. I never have either, but I've been very close to people that have. Can you imagine being sued for more money than you have ever made in your life? Can you imagine being accused of fraud to pierce the corporate veil to allow going after personal assets? Can you imagine years of not being able to sleep at night wondering if everything that you've worked for will be taken away?

Now, your lawyers are telling you it will cost "x" dollars to defend you in court. It doesn't matter what "x" is but it's usually a pretty high number. Would you settle for any number equal to or less than "x" to prevent having to go to court and the chance of losing everything?

This process is disgusting and all it takes is someone with a little money to make your life miserable. "Merit" is what is decided in court and only comes after a few hundred thousand dollars. Lawyers still get their money and a settlement is usually what the plaintiff wants anyway.

jumpin_catfish 8 years, 8 months ago

Years ago this should have happened but the lawyers run the country in case you haven't noticed and their little guild isn't about to let this take place.

denak 8 years, 8 months ago

Tort reform is little more than an attempt by companies to inhibit a consumer's ability to go to court, take away their right to compensation and hold a company responsible should they make a product that injures or kills an individual.

If a person's right to sue is limited, not only will it effect the individual personally, it also effects the general population. In the past, lawsuits have forced companies to make safer products as part of their settlement.

Furthermore, tort reform adversely effects the most vulnerable of people in our children, the poor or the elderly by putting caps on non-economic damages since children, the elderly or poor, do not have a great deal of economic value to begin with. Also, limiting contigency based lawsuits will benefit only the rich since most individuals who use contingency based lawyers are those who can not afford to pay a lawyer upfront to begin with (ie the poor or elderly).

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about individuals "hitting the lottery" by suing doctors or companies for silly things however, most of the time if you go back and read those cases (ie the McDonalds case) the lawsuits were valid and it wasn't just someone trying to get rich.


notajayhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

Liberty_One (Anonymous) says…

"The New England Journal of Medicine did a study that was published in May of 2006 that found most medical malpractice claims that were valid were settled out of court and that the system successfully weeded out invalid claims."

The fact that most of the valid ones were setteled is not the same as saying most of the settled ones were valid. Also, how did they 'successfully weed out' the invalid claims - by paying a small fee to make them go away, perhaps?

I realize this example isn't a medical malpractice situation, but insurance companies operate on the same principal pretty much regardless of the area of liability:

A few years ago my wife suffered an injury due to a problem with an outdoor staircase at our apartment complex. Our lease was very clear that tenants agree not to sue the apartment complex for anything - even negligence. According to an attorney we consulted, those clauses have held up in the state where we lived at the time. The insurance company, after reminding us of that and assuring us we had no valid claim, still made an unsolicited offer of a few thousand dollars, which they called something like a convenience fee, to sign a release.

I was offered a similar amount by the insurance company of a driver who rear-ended me at a traffic light. It's pretty much standard practice.

It's not a matter of fault, it's a matter of dollars and cents. The decisions are made by accountants, not attorneys. Even with attorneys on staff and on retainer, it still costs $xxx to litigate a case, even one you're going to win. So it makes sense to make an offer of one-half $xxx to make it disappear. With my own malpractice insurance, the decision to litigate isn't mine, it's theirs - even if I am absolutely sure I did nothing wrong and I can prove it, if the insurance company believes it would be cheaper to settle, they do it.

imastinker (Anonymous) says…

"Lawyers still get their money and a settlement is usually what the plaintiff wants anyway."

Kinda' like bookies, or stockbrokers. Whether the client wins or loses, they win. In the case I was just talking about above, we ended up getting almost exactly what I was asking for, but it ended up costing the insurance company twice as much after paying legal costs on both sides.

Scott Drummond 8 years, 8 months ago

No one's addressed the death panels issue brought up in the first comment. What's the matter right wing apologists, cat got your tongues?

Also, for all those moaning about having to employ lawyers to defend against claims that they think are without merit, do you complain also about not getting raw materials for free, or having to pay labor, etc.? How is defense of the business interests not just another one of the costs of doing business? Wouldn't a competent business person just account for it in pricing like all other cost? We are always told corporate taxes are just passed on to the consumer. Does the same not happen with litigation costs?

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years, 8 months ago

LIberty, I worked 11 years for a top-five bank and saw us settle case after case NOT because we were in the wrong, but to simply make it go away. Customers who 100% owed us money would get away with financial murder.

Attorneys are often used as legal forms of harrassment. Its bad press to litigate. Its risky to litigate. Its costly to litigate. So, the big cats settle and pass the costs on to the little guy (you and I).

notajayhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

Liberty_One (Anonymous) says…

"Like I said before, the majority of these claims have merit. These aren't healthy people making false claims, these are people who've lost a leg or become paralyzed, or had a spouse die..."

Up until that point you were correct. Then you got into what appears to be a slightly biased opinion. Yes, these people eneded up coming out of the hospital missing a leg or maybe even in a body bag. Believe it or not, some things - like death, for instance - are beyond the control even of modern medicine. In a way, the medical miracles that are becoming almost commonplace are to blame - people have begun to see physicians as almost god-like, and if they can't pull off that miracle, than someone must have been at fault.

OBGYNs pay one of the highest, if not the highest, rates for malpractice insurance. The number one cause of infant mortality is gongenital malformations. But with the natural need to blame someone as part of the grief process, it's the doctor that all too often becomes the focus. Less-than-perfect babies are born all the time due to lifestyle choices of the mother. But everyone sues the doctor. Faced with a lifetime of huge medical bills, what they perceive as deep pockets of the physician and the hospital, and an attorney lurking nearby who says 'Why don't you come in for a free consultation and we'll see if there's something we can pursue,' most people are willing to go for it.

It's not all about negligence and cutting off the wrong arm, Liberty. Medical practitioners who have not been sued are the exception rather than the rule. It's the nature of the business, because, just as you said, these people have suffered a loss. That does not mean, however, that they were all 'victims,' that the practitioner did anything wrong or that it was within their power to prevent that loss. Everyone dies. Most of them get sick or suffer some injury before that happens. It's not always anyone's fault.

staff04 8 years, 8 months ago

It's worth reviewing the actual NEJM study that Liberty mentions--I don't recall the exact numbers or terminology, but in the study a panel of doctors (who would presumably have a stake) reviewed thousands of medical malpractice cases and found that a tiny number were not valid. So few as to label the arguments of pervasive lawsuit abuse as flimsy at best.

The fact that insurers choose more often to settle than litigate doesn't help the cause, IMO. If they want to prove a point, they'd start taking some of these cases to court and prove to us how much abuse there is. Until then, it's all anecdotal.

"snap_pop_no_crackle (Anonymous) says… As long as the trial lawyers have the DNC in their pocket tort reform will not happen."

If tort reform was so important to Republicans why didn't they do it when they had six years of rule from 2000-2006?

I would suggest that it didn't happen then because it ISN'T that important to them and it in fact is a tiny component of rising costs of health care. I would also offer my opinion that tort reform didn't happen then, nor will it happen now--not because the trial lawyers are all powerful, but because the majority of people, legislators and citizens alike perceive a relative balance in the system as it exists now.

notajayhawk 8 years, 8 months ago

staff04 (Anonymous) says…

"It's worth reviewing the actual NEJM study that Liberty mentions"

It would be interesting to review the study, had anyone posted a link. But I found it anyway.

In the methodology section, the authors state " ... we defined a claim as a written demand for compensation for medical injury. Anticipated claims or queries that fell short of actual demands did not qualify." In other words, the 'nuisance' payouts I refered to earlier were not considered in the data for this study.

The patients were not examined or interviewed. A reviewer spent an average of 1.6 hours reviewing the case file. The reviewers reported a high degree of confidence in their judgment in only 44% of cases reviewed, and moderate in another 30%. (Incidentally, in virtually every malpractice case, there are expert witnesses for both sides - half of whom believe the practitioner was at fault, the other half of whom disagree.) And there's this little tidbit: "Reviewers were not blinded to the outcome of litigation because it was logistically impossible to censor this information in the files. However, they were instructed to ignore this outcome and exercise independent clinical judgment in rendering determinations with regard to injury and error." In other words, when the reviewers made their judgments as to whether a case had 'merit,' they already knew the outcome - don't you think that's just a little bit shaky, staff?

From the data: It's true that in only 3% of the cases studied, there was no actual injury. However, there were another 37% that had injuries where there was no evidence that medical error caused the injury.

And while most (about 3/4) of those cases did not result in compensation, cases resolved out of court averaged over $42,000 in litigation costs, those resolved at trial $112,000. And the compensation paid in the cases where the experts did not find evidence of medical error, while smaller than that of the cases where error was found, still averaged over $312,000.

Cases where no medical error was judged to have occurred were twice as likely to go to court. Oh - and only 21% of the plaintiffs who actually went all the way to a court decision won their cases. It would seem that the juries, who had a little more in-depth knowledge of the case than the expert physician reviewers, found a somewhat higher percentage that were without merit.

And here's an interesting sentence from the conclusions:

"Rather, our findings underscore how difficult it may be for plaintiffs and their attorneys to discern what has happened before the initiation of a claim and the acquisition of knowledge that comes from the investigations, consultation with experts, and sharing of information that litigation triggers." Or, in other words, cases are typically filed before the plaintiff or their attorney(s) know whether there is a basis for a claim.

Oh, and this: "The overhead costs of malpractice litigation are exorbitant."

tashtego 8 years, 8 months ago

Malpractice is usually not noticed or discovered. But the focus is not on trying to stop it by disqualifying doctors or training better or closing lousy hospitals, but on limiting the compensation for victims. That increases costs of litigation because there is no incentive to settle if the worst that can happen is some "cap".

It's why drs today, even OB/GYN drs, have less insurance coverage than you have.

I have done malpractice cases for over 20 yrs. Consider:

  1. 30 y/o woman w/ abnormal pap smear misread by pathologist but still reported to OB/GYN abnormal. No one tells patient; no follow-up. 2 years later she has invasive cancer and has radiation, loses the ability to have children, and permanent hormonal treatment to preserve feminine traits--and worry about recurrence. Astronomical medical bills.

  2. 14y/o girl sent home from school Friday p.m, taken to dr. (flu season). Symptoms serious; dr. mentions possible meningitis, lumbar puncture (LP) to rule out potentially fatal condition, but doesn't think she has that so no LP. She dies two days later of meningitis. Dr. thought you do test when you think she has meningitis, not when you think she MIGHT have meningitis.

  3. 23 y/o African-American man has several episodes of pneumonia; PCP blood test shows congenital immunodeficiency disorder related to sickle cell disease. He does not have full-scale disease, but spleen has been destroyed; needs a regimen of immunizations and simple measures to prevent catastrophic injuries or death. No one reports test results. He has another episode of pneumonia leading to sepsis 2 years later, amputations of both legs, all fingers, and a million dollars in bills. Condition diagnosed when he was an infant but not reported. 20 yrs later, again, mistake repeated.

  4. African-American client, woman with digestive distress and pain, approved for endoscopy, no one ever told her what she should do other than to get a stress test for cardiac problems. She died of stomach cancer a few years later, after delay in diagnosis.

  5. Middle-aged patient w/ back problems goes in for decompression of stenosis in the thoracic spine. Has three surgeries in 1 day because 1st was at wrong level, caused trauma to other levels. 2 other surgeries made matters worse. He walked into hospital--with some difficulty, has not walked since.

  6. 39 year old woman married to high school sweetheart had hysterectomy and complications, a rectal-vaginal fistula. To correct, she has temporary colostomy. In attempt to restore normal function, complication recurs, surgeon removes most of colon, need for permanent colostomy. No reason to have done the removal of the colon, according to experts trying to fix and can't be fixed.

Just a few cases of malpractice and catastrophic injuries I have handled. Did they happen in some backwater city? No. Four of the above cases occurred in the celebrated Texas Medical Center in Houston.

staff04 8 years, 7 months ago


Fair points. It has been a long time since I've read the study.

I still think that it is damning that insurers choose to settle more often than not. If they want their complaints about frivolous lawsuits to be validated, they need to challenge the frauds and bring them to the public's attention. Stop trying to rely on the outrage of a few anecdotal situations and present some real, hard evidence that, as they love to say, malpractice lawsuits are the biggest cause of medical inflation.

Until then, I believe there is little chance of tipping that perceived balance that I mentioned in my earlier post.

Jimo 8 years, 7 months ago

"Punitive damages should be because they are usually based upon the emotional response of the jury."

Punitive damages prevent wrong-doers from pricing in compensatory damages into their business model and proceeding without alternation. As much as most people assume the justice system protects them, the fact is that quite often - absent punitive damages - it is easier and cheaper to pay compensatory damages for economic harm or even death than it is to take steps to avoid the harm at all.

Remember: it is the victim's burden to prove both negligent liability and document the economic harm, and that is often difficult to do. (Example: a 60 year old victim who is not totally disabled but still cannot continue to work except for minor labor will not only have to deduct the minor wages they now can earn - even if they cannot in fact find work - but also will only count the wages they would have earned up to the earliest date of retirement despite the fact that their standard of living in retirement would almost certainly have been significantly higher absent the harm, all completely aside from the loss of a peaceful and enjoyable retirement because that is 'non-economic' damage. Most people wouldn't call this justice.)

Jimo 8 years, 7 months ago

I doubt more than one person in a million would consider an award of $10M to be an adequate remedy for death resulting from a lethal infection caused by a doctor not washing his hands. But that's okay because - despite one-off prominent headlines to the contrary - our legal system is exceedingly unlikely to award your heirs anything close to this figure, if anything at all.

Unlikely? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that patients develop 1.7 million infections in hospitals each year, and it says those infections cause or contribute to the death of 99,000 people a year. Preventable? Easily. Cost? Almost nothing. Progress on reduction? Virtually none - despite regulation, despite lawsuits, despite professionalism.

This proposal for limited damages is politicians interfering with the course of justice. Practicing medicine is a highly skilled endeavor and liability should be absolute - if harm is done the victim should be able to sue and recover the totality of their loss, not tossed on the trash heap of "losers" with some token recovery.

notajayhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

staff04 (Anonymous) says…

"Stop trying to rely on the outrage of a few anecdotal situations and present some real, hard evidence that, as they love to say, malpractice lawsuits are the biggest cause of medical inflation."

I don't believe I, or anyone else, said any such thing. This is one of the big problems with healthcare reform - everyone thinks there's one big thing, that we're going to find a magic bullet that's going to make this country a healthcare Utopia. What's wrong with fixing several smaller things? If it saves a couple of hundred billion dollars per year, isn't that worth something? Why can't we target the specific problems with our current system (e.g. providing coverage for the legitimately uninsured, preventing cancellation for major claims, etc.), find some ways to cut costs (e.g. tort reform, allowing competition across state lines, find a way to cut down on the over-utilization of specialists and expensive testing, etc.), and keep working to improve the current system instead of trying to scrap it and start over?

Jimo (Anonymous) says…

"Punitive damages prevent wrong-doers from pricing in compensatory damages into their business model and proceeding without alternation."

Um, no, they don't. Insurance companies pay the award, malpractice rates for ALL practitioners go up, and those costs are passed on to YOU in higher healthcare costs. Licensing boards are what forces medical professionals to alter their practices or to stop practicing, not jury awards.

"Practicing medicine is a highly skilled endeavor and liability should be absolute"

Get a grip.

notajayhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

Jimo (Anonymous) says…

"I doubt more than one person in a million would consider an award of $10M to be an adequate remedy for death resulting from a lethal infection caused by a doctor not washing his hands."

Well, when you consider that the results at the top of the page say 459 people (so far) think there should be limits, I think we're pretty well past that one-in-a-million level.

Jimo 8 years, 7 months ago

nota - thanks but that's not the question, which seems to lack (a) the award, (b) the dollar figure (c) the death (d) the immediate cause of death (e) the context of the death (f) the ease in prevention of the death or (g) the identity of the tortfeasor, leaving aside (h) the ease of non-random primates clicking on buttons versus being required to go through voir dire, sit down, hear evidence, make choices, and defend them publicly.

Other than that, I guess you're correct.

pace 8 years, 7 months ago

If someone injures you, one option to recover the cost is to sue them. I have no reason to set a limit for a jury or judge to abide on all cases. I have no desire to make the medical corporations and persons a special protected class. So let it go to court.

notajayhawk 8 years, 7 months ago

Jimo (Anonymous) says…

"nota - thanks but that's not the question, which seems to lack blah blah blah ..."

Right, Jimmie, 'cause the two-thirds of the people who think awards should be limited would surely have set those limits at above $10 mil for not washing your hands.

Does your doctor wear a tie, Jimmie? Many doctors aren't lately - do you know why?

Kirk Larson 8 years, 7 months ago

Texas put caps on malpratice suits. It was supposed to be the cure-all for health care costs. Now, Texas has some of the highest health costs in the country.

tbaker 8 years, 7 months ago

"Pain and suffering" damages should be limited. Actual damages should not be, and they should implement a rule where the "loser pays" for the winners attorney fees. This will all but end frivolous law suites.

This reform is a very old idea, just like selling health insurance across state lines is, just like giving individual people the same tax break for health care costs employers get. All of these reforms gore a sacred cow (trial lawyers for the dems, health insurance companies for the repubs) The tax-break transfers power from the government back to the individual person (perish the thought!). This is why these are very old reform ideas that haven't been instituted and won't be until we stop voting for incumbents.

Politicians care more about the people who pay for their campaigns, and holding on to power, than they do about us.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.