My two cents on President Obama's State of the Union speech

John Fisher
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Stopping Medical Injustice
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama took an unexpected shot at trial lawyers by saying that he was "willing to look at other ideas to bring down [health care] costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits."  Sounds good, right?  Big round of applause of the President?  Put an end to frivolous lawsuits--that can't be a bad thing, right?

After the huge round of applause ends, let's look past the rhetoric and consider the facts about medical malpractice reform.  The words, "medical malpractice reform" in this context mean only one thing: limiting the rights of victims of malpractice to be compensated for their injuries, or more specifically, putting a cap on the maximum amount that can be recovered in a malpractice lawsuit. 

Many states in the nation have experimented with caps on damages, and the first to enact caps on malpractice damages was California in 1975 when it imposed a cap of $250,000. California?  Isn't this the same state that is so fiscally sound that many of its towns and cities are declaring bankruptcy?  Caps didn't do much to solve the "health care crisis" in California over the past 35 years, unfortunately.

National studies reveal that the costs of medical malpractice litigation, including legal fees and payments to injury victims, amounts to less than one percent of the total cost of health care in our nation. If we eliminate medical malpractice lawsuits tomorrow, the overall cost of health care will be reduced by less than 1/2 of one percent.  Not much of an impact in solving our health care crisis.

A recent study by Harvard University revealed that only one out of eight malpractice victims will ever bring a claim.  This means that the vast majority of malpractice victims either do not realize that they were the victim of medical negligence or choose not to bring a claim.  Contrary to public perception, not everyone sues.

Do lawyers bring frivolous lawsuits? In some cases this happens, but it is much less common than you'd think.  Despite what you hear, few lawyers ever file a frivolous lawsuit.  No sane lawyer would file a lawsuit that has little chance of success.  If the lawsuit fails, the lawyer is not compensated for any of his time and he/she gets left holding the bag on tens of thousands of dollars of case expenses. Not such a great idea for a lawyer who intends to earn a living as a malpractice lawyer.

So, what do you make of President Obama's rhetoric about limiting the rights of malpractice victims?  Just the same old nonsense meant to appease the audience.  But when you get past the rhetoric and look for the truth, you discover that it is nothing but hot air.  Too bad for the supposedly enlightened President.
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