AP Poll: Americans want medical malpractice reform

Chris Rizo Nov. 19, 2009, 10:51am


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The majority of Americans say federal lawmakers ought to make it more difficult for allegedly aggrieved patients to sue for medical malpractice, a poll Thursday indicates.

The Associated Press poll found that 54 percent of Americans say they would like to see it more difficult to sue hospitals and doctors over alleged malpractice, while 32 percent said they are opposed to placing limits on medical malpractice litigation.

The Associated Press reported that support for limits on malpractice lawsuits cuts across party lines.

Fifty-eight percent of independents and 61 percent of Republicans said they are in favor of lawsuit limits, while 47 percent of Democrats said they favor making it harder to sue. Thirty-seven percent of Democrats said they are opposed to such measures.

The director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Douglas Elmendorf, has said as much as $54 billion could be saved over the next 10 years if Congress enacts legal reforms including a $250,000 cap on damages for pain and suffering and a $500,000 cap on punitive damages and restricting the statute of limitations on malpractice claims.

Lisa Maas, executive director of Californians Allied for Patient Protection, which supports limits on medical malpractice lawsuits, said it should come as no surprise that Americans favor limiting medical malpractice lawsuits.

"Clearly, frivolous lawsuits don't result in better care, just more dollars spent on defensive medicine and unnecessary tests that drive up the cost of health care for everyone," she said.

In California, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act limits noneconomic damages -- pain and suffering -- to $250,000. The statute, however, allows for unlimited compensation for economic damages such as lost wages and medical costs.

The California Supreme Court in August declined to hear a challenge to statute, passed by the California Legislature in 1975 and signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, who currently serves as the state's attorney general.

In a statement, Maas said the 34-year-old MICRA law should be a model for cost-cutting as federal lawmakers work on a national health care overhaul.

"California's MICRA has saved health care consumers billions of dollars, limited the number of meritless lawsuits against health care providers, and has ensured injured patients are fairly compensated," she said. "Congress would be wise to use MICRA as a template as they craft federal health care reform."

The $1 trillion health care plan that was narrowly approved this month by the House of Representatives eschews tort reforms such as a cap on punitive damages and narrowing the statute of limitations on medical malpractice claims.

Instead, the plan would allow the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services to give grants to states that overhaul their medical malpractice systems so long as their reforms don't in any way limit attorneys' fees or impose caps on damages.

The Associated Press poll of 1,502 adults from Oct. 29 to Nov. 8 was conducted by Stanford University with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Its margin of error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

More News