Although there have been tort reform changes in many states across the United States with damages caps set, nevertheless the problem of high insurance premiums and large settlements in negligence cases still plagues many doctors. In fact a careful analysis of the costs involved in the medical liability landscape leave open valid considerations of whether or not many traditional medical practices can survive.
The issue of troubles for doctors due to medical liability has been addressed in an opinion written in American Medical News, “Doctors still face harsh medical liability realities.” Amidst the landscape of the harsh realities of liability problems inherent in the medical profession there have been some victories for tort reform. In September 2011 California’s $250,000 noneconomic damages cap, which has been long considered the gold standard among state tort reforms, was upheld by an appellate court. And the state’s high court in West Virginia upheld the same cap in June 2011.
These tort reforms which have been enacted or upheld in some states have been associated with positive results. Many doctors who otherwise would have fled to a location with a better liability climate have stayed put. And liability premiums in tort reform states have typically been lowered or at least stabilized. However, there have also been dramatic setbacks for tort reform. The Georgia Supreme Court found that state’s $350,000 cap was unconstitutional in 2010. In the same year the Illinois Supreme Court found a cap of $500,000 was unconstitutional. And there are heated legal challenges being waged over tort reform in Missouri, Indiana and elsewhere.
Meantime in a study issued in November 2011 the American Medical Association found that the average expense to defend against a medical liability claim in 2010 was $47,158. That was a 63% increase from 2001. And average expense payments have increased by 43% since 2005 to an average of $26,851 even with dead-end claims. Furthermore, payouts of at least $1 million accounted for 34% of total payments
And in a second American Medical Association report released in December 2011 it was found that many states still have unacceptably high premiums. Consider for example in some areas of New York premiums for obstetrician-gynecologists hit $206,913 in 2011, which was a 41% increase from 2004. In South Florida general surgeons pay as much as $191,000 a year in premiums.
And consider that the toll that medical liability takes on doctors is often more than financial. It was found in one recent finding that surgeons who were sued had a 7% higher rate of burnout and a 10% higher rate of experiencing symptoms of depression than those not sued during the two years examined. This all makes the medical profession not appear to be a very appealing career choice in the United States these days, even for the very wealthy.
Mandel News Service