Medical Malpractice Tort Reform

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There is much news, talk and controversy regarding medical malpractice tort reform. Since 2000, state and federal legislatures have made this a recurring topic. Many states, as well as the federal government, are still wrestling with this complex issue. Tort reform means changing the way litigation is handled to make the system fairer, more efficient or to improve the economic impact on society.

Medical professionals are sometimes required by law to carry malpractice insurance, in order to protect them from exorbitant medical malpractice awards. In recent years, however, the rates for this kind of insurance are on the rise. Health care providers then pass this increase on to consumers, in the form of higher medical costs. Those in favor of tort reform claim that if the trend of increased insurance rates continues, doctors will be unable to practice medicine, particularly in low-income or low-population areas because their insurance rates will make their profession cost prohibitive.

Medical malpractice insurance has seen double digit percentage increases over the last several years, and the damages awarded in malpractice cases have also increased. However, economists who have studied the reasons for increased malpractice insurance premiums have linked this to the increase in the medical malpractice awards, and also to lower than expected returns on the investments of insurance companies.

On the other hand, medical malpractice suits provide an incentive for doctors and health care professionals to treat their patients with safe and effective medical practices. It helps to keep high standards for medical care. Doctors who are routinely sued for malpractice will soon be unable to afford to continuing practicing medicine because of increased insurance rates or becoming uninsurable. Thus, the argument is that the current system keeps in place a health care standard that is essential for the safety of the general public.

Medical malpractice tort reform is generally a state issue rather than a federal issue. Therefore, from state to state the rules for medical malpractice cases are different, as are the arguments for reform. Tort reform often pertains to the statute of limitations (the time allowed between injury and the filing of a lawsuit), the limits on damages, or the limits on attorney's fees.

The controversy of medical malpractice tort reform often pits plaintiff attorneys and consumers against doctors and insurance companies, and the economic implications against the public health and safety. Everyone has something to gain or lose from tort reform, and as in any complex political issue, there are pros and cons for each side.


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