Medical Malpractice Tort Reform Backfires in Florida
Several years ago, Florida passed tort “reform” that among other things was supposed to help doctors afford medical malpractice insurance. Guess what happened? As usual, the insurers barely dropped their premiums after the “reform” passed. But now doctors are just choosing not to buy insurance coverage because they’ve realized that being uninsured makes it less likely they’ll be sued. And, even if they are sued, they can just file bankruptcy:
"I have a strong feeling I'll never hear from another attorney again," Rosenbaum said. "Sure, I'm nervous. But I practice carefully. The first thing lawyers do when they have a case is [check] all the doctors involved to see who has how much coverage." [Sad but true. The assumption is that if a doctor doesn’t have medical malpractice insurance, he doesn’t have any money to satisfy a judgment. – JCL]
Financial advisors now specialize in sheltering doctors' assets from malpractice verdicts. Marc Singer, a partner at Singer Xenos Wealth Management in Coral Gables, said he advises doctors to drop coverage and, if sued, offer the patient a choice: a small settlement or get nothing when the doctor goes bankrupt. [And people call lawyers unethical. – JCL]
"The idea here is not to beat the patient, the idea is to lower the expectations of the plaintiff's attorney," Singer said.
Bankruptcy has become a growing option for uninsured doctors, experts said. Federal and state laws shield the main home, retirement accounts, annuities and life insurance from malpractice awards.
Uninsured Juno Beach neurosurgeon Jacques Farkas filed for bankruptcy in 2004 after two patients sued. In the more severe case, a paralyzed man said in a lawsuit that his brain was pierced by a back rod Farkas implanted badly. Bankruptcy court records show Farkas sheltered $2.6 million in assets, including a $1.6 million oceanfront home. His payout to creditors: $16,200. The two patients got nothing. [While the doctor lives the life of a rock star, the patient lives in a wheelchair. And I bet taxpayers picked up the tab for that wheelchair, too. I also wonder why the bankruptcy “reform” act doesn’t prevent millionaires from filing bankruptcy, when it prevents middle-class debtors from doing so.– JCL]
"Fair or not fair... he did what the law allowed," said Charles Cohen, a Farkas attorney who said the doctor denies wrongdoing in the surgeries.
Attorneys said declaring bankruptcy gives doctors another edge. If a malpractice award does not get paid because of bankruptcy, the state no longer considers a doctor in violation for not paying it, preserving his or her medical license. Only a handful of doctors have lost licenses for not paying. [This sucks. And it sucks because it’s a necessary consequence of bankruptcy protection; filing bankruptcy is your legal right, and it’s not fair to punish you for doing so. - JCL]
Source: Uninsured doctors on the rise in South Florida -- South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com (H/T to Walter)
Thanks to tort “reform,” injured patients are getting little or no compensation, and taxpayers are paying the medical bills for the injured patients. Good job, Florida Legislature.