Why You Need a Lawyer When Doctors Make Mistakes

July 22, 2014

Every year more Americans are killed by medical mistakes than died in the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, and both Iraq wars, combined. Deaths by medical mistakes are estimated to be as low as 90,000, and as high as 440,000 EVERY YEAR according to independent studies from organizations such as The Journal of Patient Safety. 

Medical malpractice is the third largest contributor to deaths in America. The vast majority of these mistakes are totally preventable, and the vast majority are never admitted to patients or their loved ones. People are convinced that there are far too many med-mal lawsuits, but the truth is that if only half the deaths caused by medical negligence were to result in lawsuits, then the rate of lawsuits would increase 1000%. Only a fraction of victims ever have a chance for justice.

The truth is that hospitals almost never admit their mistakes because they want to avoid taking responsibility. Often it’s not the doctors or nurses who refuse to admit mistakes, or try to cover up their mistakes. Many of these individuals are good people who were negligent for various reasons, including being overworked, tired or simply diverted. Some of them are incompetent, but most are not. Rather, it is hospital administrators and insurance carriers who are guilty of denying victims justice. For these “bean counters” the issue is not patient care or safety – it is the bottom line… profits. Just like G.M. 

It is not just a matter of doctors and nurses staying silent, or looking the other way. Records are changed or destroyed; families are misinformed about the circumstances of the death. When a patient dies or when a patient who was harmed by an act of malpractice request medical records, it triggers a review by “risk managers” – people employed by hospitals to short-circuit lawsuits. Their entire focus is on denying victims justice, although they would say they help avoid “frivolous lawsuits.” I have been involved in numerous cases of med-mal where records were changed after the fact to deceive the victims.    

It is a rare situation when a doctor or nurse is incompetent or deliberately harms a patient, but it is not a rare circumstance when hospital administrators or insurance companies hide the negligence. This is why when an unexpected or catastrophic outcome results from a medical procedure, you need legal representation. Most patients or their families don’t know their rights or understand the process. I do, and it is my job to protect you. 

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The Lie of Tort Reform

March 2, 2010

The “Health Care Summit” reminded me that there are some disturbing rumors that President Obama is open to incorporating GOP “ideas” on “Tort Reform”. This would be a tremendous mistake for several reasons.

First, Tort Reform has nothing to do with health care costs. It is solely a give away to the insurance industry. In States that have passed caps and other types of “Tort Reform”, the costs of delivering medical care, the costs of private medical insurance and the costs of medical malpractice insurance is the same, or more, as those States which have not passed Tort Reform. Study after study in the past 2 decades have consistently shown that medical malpractice lawsuits contribute less than 1/10 of 1% (.01) of health care costs. Some people claim that the hidden costs of lawsuits include the practice of “defensive medicine”, but again, the data proves otherwise. Most medical tests deemed to be unnecessary are ordered by doctors and hospitals seeking to up their fees and cover costs of purchasing new (and often unnecessary or duplicative) equipment. A hospital decides to order a new MRI machine and hire staff [even though a competitor down the street already has one], and all of a sudden the number of requests for MRIs increases.

The number of medical malpractice lawsuits has steadily declined in the past 25 years. The number of cases won by plaintiffs has decreased, and the average amount of money verdicts has decreased during the same time period. So why has the cost of medical insurance premiums and medical malpractice insurance increased exponentially? The only economic factor shown to correlate with increases in the costs of insurance premiums is the stock market. In other words, insurance companies raise premiums depending on how their investments in the stock market fare. Then, of course, there are the 28% administrative costs, including lobbyists to make sure that States don’t audit their books.

Not one insurance company, in any state, has ever opened its books to correlate the premiums charged with the actual cost of underwriting. The health care crisis is in large measure due to the abuses of private insurance companies. The solution to the crisis is not to take away the legal rights of Americans to have their day in court, and protect corporations, which is what Tort Reform is. Whenever I ask people, even conservatives, if they think the government should be able to change any verdict from any jury without hearing or reviewing a single piece of evidence, they say “absolutely not”. That is exactly what happens with damage caps (tort reform).

Even though it is widely recognized that the abuses private health insurance corporations have created the heath care crisis, the President still refuses to consider a single payer system. A single payer system would immediately reduce administrative costs, which is the single greatest contributor to escalating costs. But another more important effect of a single payer system would be to remove the corrupting influence of insurance industry money on politics. If you happen to have seen the health summit on television, imagine a dollar sum above the heads of each and every one of those Congressmen talking, representing how much money they took from the insurance industry to get elected… Max Baucus ($35 million), Joe Lieberman ($12 million), etc.

Tort reform will change nothing regarding the costs of health care. It is another give away, taking away all our rights. What we really need is campaign finance reform. That would solve more than just the Health Care Crisis.