A Better Way Forward: Stop Junk Lawsuits

A BETTER WAY FORWARD
STOP JUNK LAWSUITS

Our health-care system piles immense costs on physicians and other providers—which are of course then passed on to patients and taxpayers—by permitting reckless medical-liability suits.

Frivolous lawsuits and excessive jury awards are driving health-care providers out of some states and forcing doctors nationwide to practice overly defensive medicine. The size of malpractice damage awards, the costs of malpractice lawsuits, and the immense expense of malpractice insurance policies are passed on to patients through out-of-pocket payments and insurance premiums.

Defensive medicine may have an even bigger effect on health-care spending than the direct costs associated with malpractice suits. Doctors feel compelled to order tests and procedures just to guard against potential malpractice claims, and this reduces access to medically necessary services and raises the costs of health care for everyone.

Our health-care system should not put the personal financial interests of trial lawyers over those of patients and doctors. A better system would restrict medical-liability awards to cases of genuine malpractice and keep the system fair and predictable so that it serves the cause of health, rather than lining the pockets of lawyers.

Key reforms for achieving that goal include working with states to:

• Establish commonsense limits on non-economic damages, to make the medical liability system more fair, predictable, and timely.

• Reserve punitive damages for egregious cases in which they are justified and limiting damages to reasonable amounts.

• Stipulating that defendants pay judgments in proportion to their fault, rather than being stuck with an entire judgment merely because they happen to be the nominally liable “deep pockets” in the case.

Reforms like these would make sure that patients continue to have recourse to the courts to address genuinely irresponsible and unprofessional behavior by health-care providers but that doctors can practice medicine in the best interests of their patients, rather than engaging in defensive medicine that serves no one’s best interest and inflates costs throughout the system.