Against Tort Reform

RECEIVED Tue., Sept. 7, 2004

   Why is tort reform on the national agenda at a time when insurance-industry profits rose 997% in 2003, tort filings declined, only 2% of injured people sued for compensation, punitive damages were rarely awarded, liability-insurance costs for businesses were minuscule, medical-malpractice insurance and claims were less than 1% of all health care costs and premium-gouging underwriting practices were widely exposed?
   According to a review of Medicare records by HealthGrades, a health care ranking group, there were 195,000 deaths annually from avoidable medical errors, twice the number estimated by the Institute of Medicine study.
   Insurers have refused to lower malpractice insurance premiums after caps and other tort reforms have been enacted. States that have enacted legal restrictions have seen their insurance rates shoot up.
   Legislation to place limits on medical malpractice liability hurts patients by restricting their rights to hold physicians, hospitals, insurance companies, HMOs, and drug and medical-device manufacturers accountable for injuries or death resulting from negligent care.
   As for the claim of ever-climbing jury awards, studies of verdicts are skewed by what study sponsors leave in or leave out. The medical associations looked only at reported jury verdicts. The trial lawyers tracked all verdicts, including nonjury verdicts, through appeals, settlements, and court-ordered reductions.
   Limits on the rights of people hurt by medical malpractice will victimize them and their families further while helping neither patients nor doctors. The real beneficiaries will be insurance companies, including the doctor-owned malpractice insurers.
Gregory D. Pawelski
Reading, Pa.
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