It's a good time for federal lawsuit reforms

The SE Texas Record Jun. 20, 2011, 3:11pm

By Linda McKenna

As usual, New York gets it wrong!

Right now, lawmakers there are considering a bill that would abolish the right to informally interview the plaintiff's physician during the discovery process in medical malpractice cases. This bill is estimated to raise insurance premiums by $80 million dollars per year and is part of a larger package to extend the statute of limitations and increase lawyer fees in medical malpractice cases.

For supporters of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA), this is a clear example of why we need medical liability reforms at the federal level.

We can be thankful in Texas for the success of our medical malpractice reforms, but it is disheartening to see the high number of groundless malpractice cases filed across the nation in the last 20 years....and know that those cases, filed outside of the Lone Star state, can still impact us.

The American Medical Association notes that 60 percent of liability claims against doctors are dropped, withdrawn, or dismissed without payment. But, in 2008, each of these cases still cost an average of $22,000. Payouts to plaintiffs and lawyers involved in these cases average hundreds of thousands of dollars � even though there is sometimes no evidence of injury or medical error.

These costs get passed on to patients and consumers, whether you live in a state with medical liability reforms in place or not. Also, the threat of lawsuits keeps life-saving treatments and devices off the market. Once again, no matter where you live, that hurts.

More than half of emergency room physicians in our country say they practice defensive medicine to protect themselves from lawsuits, according to a study by the American College of Emergency Physicians. When 60 percent of lawsuits are groundless and the majority of our doctors are practicing costly defensive medicine, it's time for our Congressional leaders to just say no to the lawsuit lottery that plagues the medical community and pass national medical liability reform. The medical lawsuit lottery hurts us all, no matter what your zip code is.

With medical liability lawsuit reform, what's been good for Texas will be good for our fellow Americans.

Linda McKenna is president of the Weslaco-based Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse of the Rio Grande Valley and a former registered nurse.

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