Tort Reform and Medical Liability Limits: A Loss for the Injured

Tort Reform is a term that is commonly used in the media and is a very heavily debated political issue. Tort reform refers to the argument that damages should be limited in civil lawsuits brought against insurance providers for such things as medical malpractice. The argument is that because damages are not capped in such lawsuits it exposes insurance providers to paying huge settlements and in turn raises the cost of insurance premiums. However, in a recent article published by PublicCitizen[1], titled “Setting the Record Straight on Medical Liability Limits: Tort “Reform” Hurts Patients, Costs Billions, and Shields Those Who Cause Harm.” it is shown that tort reform only hurts injured victims of medical negligence and has little to no effect on the cost of insurance premiums. The article states that in 1999 the Institute of Medicine estimated that 98,000 Americans die from preventable medical errors each year. That number was estimated by Hearst Newspapers in 2009 to have grown to a staggering 200,000 Americans. Advocates of tort reform argue that those potentially 200,000 Americans killed every year by medical negligence should have their recovery limited to a specified amount even if it does not fully compensated for their losses. As noted above the number of Americans who die from preventable medical mistakes has more than doubled in a 10 year period. Given that information it would be reasonable to assume that medical malpractice lawsuits must have doubled in that time period as well. However, 2008 was recorded as the lowest year on record for medical malpractice suits across the U.S. and that number has been steadily declining since 1990. In Texas tort reform laws were passed in 2003 limiting liability for medical malpractice. Since the enactment of those laws, medical malpractice payments to injured patients in Texas have dropped by 67%. The more than 50% drop in malpractice payments would expectedly equate to lower insurance costs for Texas citizens, but that has not happened. Since 2003 the cost of health insurance in Texas has doubled and the state’s number of uninsured citizens has increased remaining the highest in the country. Based on this information there appears to be no correlation between rising insurance costs and civil malpractice lawsuits. The only result that tort reform appears to produce is a loss for the victims of medical negligence.