Saturday, December 12, 2009

Maryland and Georgia Shine a Spotlight on Tort Reform

/24-7/ Tort reform is a perpetually relevant and constantly debated issue, mostly because there seems to be no static, easily-applied answer.

Proponents of capped, non-economic liability suits claim:
-Uncapped suits result in higher insurance costs for doctors, which lead to a lack of specialists in states with no caps. Essentially, doctors don't want to practice there.
-Uncapped suits also lead to higher insurance costs for consumers, as the higher cost for doctors is transferred down.

Opponents of capped, non-economic liability suits argue that:
-Capped suits are unfair to patients who have the most to lose. By imposing caps, we inadvertently punish those facing the most suffering, but with smaller economic implications.
-In addition, judges have the ability to limit monetary awards that balloon out of proportion. Therefore, caps limit the ability of the court to serve its purpose.

Currently the Georgia Supreme Court is hearing arguments over the state's $350,000 medical liability cap. In February, a county judge ruled that the non-economic damage cap was unconstitutional, as it cut across the court's right to determine awards. Judge Diane E. Bessen went on to say that the cap violated equal patient protection by disproportionately impacting those with more severe injuries.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, the court of appeals will hear arguments on whether liability caps should pertain only to cases resolved in arbitration. Supporters of the cap argue that this move would simply result in more court cases. Cap opponents hold that a "one-size-fits-all" approach is no solution and that more serious cases deserve higher judgments.

Over 20 states currently employ medical liability caps, including Kansas which, at $250,000, is one of the lowest.

While tort reform and medical liability caps remain a hot button in the healthcare debate, more and more data points to the fact that liability claims may not be as large a factor in healthcare costs as commonly thought. Estimates put it at about two or three percent of the entire U.S. healthcare bill.

Still, it's an easy target.

In 2004, the Rand Institute for Civil Justice released a study examining the effects of California's Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), which was launched in 1975. The study found that those most affected by MICRA were individuals that suffered fewer economic damages, but faced a high amount of pain and loss in quality of life.

In other words, if you suffered an injury which did not impact you very much financially, but severely decreased your quality of life (say, you can no longer lift your arms above your head) you would be more susceptible to the cap.

Tort reform is a highly-emotional issue, for doctors, patients, lawyers and all those concerned about the future of healthcare. The cases in Georgia and Maryland certainly mark important decisions for both states, indeed, they may help to set a precedent that echoes across the country.

Article provided by Warner Law Offices PA

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