Medical Negligence – How to Receive Adequate Compensation

In recent years, there has been an increase in tort reform efforts in Congress. There is also a push by President Obama and his administration to pass the Protecting Americans’ Act. tort reform is a relatively small group of ideas which are designed to alter the current laws of civil law so that damages and tort litigation are lower. Tort reform began in the late 1970s. It was initially a campaign initiated by large corporations and insurance companies, the objective of which was to weaken the civil law system and make tort reform more palatable to a majority of citizens.

Critics of tort reform argue that it will allow personal injuries attorneys to sue large corporations and insurance providers in private courts, rather than having them settle in civil courtrooms. Proponents argue that civil courts already have enough judges and juries, with the additional burdens placed on juries due to mandatory damages caps that limit awards of punitive damages. Proponents further point out that our civil justice system is designed for accountability and justice, and tort reform ensures that injured parties are able to seek damages in “real” or legitimate lawsuits. Proponents argue that the current system allows insurance companies to “defend” against liability claims, allowing only the guilty to escape justice.

There are also concerns about increasing costs associated with tort reform. Proponents argue that increased premiums and caps on damages will result in fewer frivolous cases filed in county and state courts, thus decreasing the cost of law. However, opponents argue that such measures will result in higher health care costs and insurance premiums for citizens, thus decreasing quality of life. Proponents counter that increased health care costs will result in fewer medical issues requiring large doctor visits, thus increasing access to quality health care.

Proponents argue that civil justice reform creates a more level playing field in tort reform. Opponents counter that the United States currently has one of the highest incidences of tort law suits in the developed world. Moreover, they point out that other countries have greatly improved their systems over recent years while the United States has not. Furthermore, they argue that the costs related to tort reform do not currently justify the increased costs of doing business in the country. Finally, opponents argue that the lack of a requirement for evidence and the fact that civil suits can be brought by anyone–even corporations–provides ample opportunity for corporate abuse.

Proponents argue that civil and non-economic damages should be subjected to some limitations based on the type of injury. For example, non-economic damages should be limited to those experienced directly by an individual, such as suffering wages or property damage. Punitive damages should also only be granted if the plaintiff has been wronged financially, but never for pain and suffering.

Both sides also make similar arguments about caps to civil and non-economic damages. The caps currently in place on personal and punitive damages are set through current law. Proponents argue that the caps prevent tort reform from becoming a farce because the caps prevent courts from assigning awards that exceed the actual monetary value of the injury. On the other hand, they say that current caps prevent frivolous lawsuits because the courts won’t have enough funds to compensate a properly compensated victim. Proponents additionally argue that if the caps are removed, the amount of frivolous lawsuits will increase.

Opponents also point out that many states have capped personal and non-economic damages, thus making it nearly impossible for victims to receive a meaningful portion of their damages. On the flip side, proponents argue that caps make tort reform necessary because the damages cap allows courts to award very large awards. Further, caps prevent courts from assigning an excessive amount to certain types of cases, thus allowing compensation to be awarded to cases that actually merit a substantial award. Lastly, opponents argue that there are already limits on the amount of money that can be awarded in state courts under the statute. Eliminating the caps would allow courts to award awards that exceed the current limitations.

One final argument in favor of medical negligence is that such a ruling would encourage doctors to perform their duties with greater care. Currently, there is a pending case in Wisconsin that could have a huge impact on the results of that state’s tort reform law. An individual sued his doctor for negligence after he was accidentally burned in a hot tub. According to the court, the doctor was aware of the danger inherent in hot tubs, yet he did not offer protection or advice to the patient. Another person, this time a nurse, died from burns suffered at another person’s home as well. The trial court found the doctor liable for this incident because he failed to provide a safe environment for the individual in the hot tub.