Tort Reform: Easy ‘Til You Look Its Victims in the Eyes
Check out this excellent article written in response to deformist ads for malpractice tort "reform". Its author, a North Carolina trial lawyer, presents a level headed critique of the poor timing (during a med mal trial in town) and inaccuracy (playing on rhetoric rather than real data) of the ad, which was essentially an advocacy peice for capping medical malpractice tort damages. Last week's news and related blogs already touched on why damage caps are both unrelated to the so-called insurance crisis and unfair to injured patients. I thought this article would be a good follow-up for people to read and think about.
What I appreciate about this article is that it starts off with an admission that many people on the civil justice side of the debate often fail to make. She admits that this situation is incredibly unfair to doctors, who are caught between a rock and a hard place and whose fears are being played upon to garner their political support for these measures that actually don't impact their reality. She invokes the Claire Huxtable in all fair-minded lawyers who see the situation for what it really is.
Next, she gives some data. I know people love to stray from the facts and go ranting on about greedy lawyers, but hey, here's a sneak peak at what she offered anyway:
Annual statements of Medical Mutual Insurance Co. of North Carolina filed with the N.C. Department of Insurance from 2001 through 2006 were studied and evaluated by former Missouri Insurance Commissioner Jay Angoff and some of his findings are:
Underwriting gain — the amount they earned on their insurance business — was up by 948 percent in only two years, from $2.1 million in 2004 to $22 million in 2006.
The surplus they hold, in addition to the amount which they set aside to pay claims in the future, nearly quadrupled in six years, rising from $35.3 million in 2001 to $127 million in 2006. Despite the surplus, no dividends were paid to their policyholders (physicians) in any year throughout the period 2001-2006.
They increased rates for physicians in 2006 even though their own data indicated that both the size and frequency of claims were decreasing. From 2001 through 2006, they collected $621 million in premiums and paid out only $184 million in claims.
The entire article is worth reading but I just also wanted to highlight the concluding paragraph:
The focus of the debate should be fighting for regulation of malpractice insurance rates and some level of reform to our health insurance system that will allow physicians to do the important work they do without the interference of bean-counters and to be compensated appropriately for that work. But to put physicians above the law with special protections that no one else has, at the expense of people who deserve to have full and fair justice for severe and permanent injuries caused by a doctor’s negligence, is wrong. It’s easy to talk about tort reform until you have to look the victim of it in the eyes.
It's refreshing to read from a growing constituent of vocal civil justice advocates, and to know that they aren't going to let tort deform propaganda brainwash the American public without a fight.