Before he was a President and Founding Father, John Adams was a famous trial lawyer. In the case that made him famous, he represented the British soldiers who participated in the Boston Massacre, in which he actually persuaded a Boston jury to dismiss the murder claims. His closing statement began with the words, “Facts are hard things,” a now-famous proverb we hear thrown about often, on issues from the deficit to gun control.
Some of the “hard facts” about medical malpractice are addressed in a new study published in the January 2013 issue of “CHEST,” the official journal of the American College of Chest Physicians.” Titled, “Five Myths of Medical Malpractice,” the study lists five famous myths, then debunks them with real facts. The study is summarized on the CHEST website, but is copyrighted and thus available in full only to subscribers. Here is the authors’ summary open to all:
“We identify five myths of medical malpractice that have wide currency in medical circles. The myths are as follows: (1) Malpractice crises are caused by spikes in medical malpractice litigation (ie, sudden rises in payouts and claim frequency), (2) the tort system delivers “jackpot justice,” (3) physicians are one malpractice verdict away from bankruptcy, (4) physicians move to states that adopt damages caps, and (5) tort reform will lower health-care spending dramatically. We test each assertion against the available empirical evidence on the subject and conclude by identifying various nonmythical problems with the medical malpractice system.”
The authors are David A. Hyman, MD, JD, and Charles Silver, JD, two expert researchers who have already punched holes in the major claims made about the benefits to Texans from state-imposed caps on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits. I’ve written extensively about their study of Texas medmal caps, which they cite in the new study.
For policy purposes, I’ll note here simply that the last paragraph of the new study reports that mandated caps on medmal damages “do little to improve the malpractice system… they do not make health-care safer, reduce health-care spending, compensate those who are negligently injured, or make the liability system work better.” Hyman and Silver say that the best reforms in medicine are “patient safety initiatives that reduce the frequency and severity of medical mistakes.”
That’s the type of fact-based conclusion that should be easy to swallow. If you want to limit medmal lawsuits, end the medmal!