Special interest groups across the United States are lobbying heavily to limit the amount of money that seriously injured consumers can recover in lawsuits against negligent persons or corporations.
Much ado is being made about the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance for doctors, hospitals and other health care providers. Special interest lobbyists say lawsuits are the main reason that the cost of this insurance is increasing in some states.
To further their cause, the supporters of limiting recovery in lawsuits do all they can to keep the public from knowing the truth about lawsuits. In the case of medical malpractice, special interest groups never talk about the horror stories of botched surgeries in the news on an almost weekly basis.
Only recently, there were reports that some 1,500 medical instruments and devices were left by careless doctors in the bodies of patients. Another recent news item told of a woman who needlessly underwent a double mastectomy because someone in the medical system carelessly mixed up her lab tests with those of another patient who actually had cancer.
However, medical malpractice is only one area in which special interest groups want to limit recoveries in lawsuits. They’re also taking aim at consumer rights by pushing to limit recoveries from governmental agencies, workers’ compensation and other areas, and they’d like to do away with punitive damages.
Placing limits on the amount that can be recovered in a lawsuit only victimizes the injured or otherwise harmed person a second time. The job of deciding the level of damages to be paid to a victim should be up to jurors and judges who hear all the evidence, not politicians who know nothing of the particulars of individual lawsuits.
Special interest groups have been spreading myths about lawsuits, but here are the facts:
□ The number of tort lawsuits filed in state courts actually decreased during the 1990s.
□ A 1992 study showed that only 3.7 percent of tort cases actually went to trial. The rest were settled, dismissed or otherwise resolved.
□ Plaintiffs in tort cases win less than half the time.
□ Punitive damage awards occur in only 3.3 percent of tort cases, according to one study.
□ California has a $250,000 cap on recovery for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, but the state’s average medical malpractice insurance premium is higher than the average premium of all states that have no caps on such damages.
□ According to a Harvard study, for every eight potential medical mal- practice claims, only one claim was actually filed.
□ The cost of medical malpractice liability premiums amounts to less than 1 percent of total health care costs.