Saturday, March 12, 2005

Tortuous Logic of Tort Reform: Deep in the Heart of Texas

In his quest for tort reform -- or by its other name, "lawyer-bashing" -- Dubya has long pointed to the example of Texas as indicative of a state with out-of-control medical malpractice costs. Only hitch is that a recent study in the Lone Star state finds no escalation of medical malpractice claims filed over a 15-year period.

The Washington Post's Ceci Connally notes some curious gaps in the so-called "medical malpractice crisis" that has allegedly plagued Texas. The researchers, four legal scholars, found no evidence of rampant, frivolous lawsuits; astronomical jury awards; or the subsequent passing off of increased medical costs to paying patients.

The Post reports:

"By virtually any measure -- from number of claims filed to damages paid out -- the data reflect amazing stability in the tort system, according to the peer-reviewed paper that will appear in the May issue of the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies.

"'The clear implication is that "runaway medical malpractice litigation" makes a poor poster child for the cause of tort reform,' the researchers wrote. 'The malpractice litigation system has many flaws, but at least in Texas, sudden increases in claim frequencies and costs appear not to have been among them.'"

And yet medical malpractice rates in Texas did rise 135 percent between 1999 and 2002 -- even as claims against physicians dropped between 1995 and 2002.

Connally writes: "'Our point, which has been largely neglected in the furious battle over malpractice liability, is that attempts to avoid crises in malpractice insurance prices should focus on insurance, not litigation,' wrote the [research] group, which included two professors at the University of Texas Law School and William Sage, a physician and law professor at Columbia University."

Question: Why are doctors not scrutinizing the shenanigans of their medical malpractice insurers?

Answer: Could it have anything to do with the fact that universally reviled lawyers make convenient strawmen, especially when Republicans -- the folks who are whipping up the docs into a frenzy -- have spent decades watching the trial lawyers fill Democratic coffers?

Of course, all that said ... just exactly how does The Washington Post attach much credibility to a study conducted by four legal experts? Legal experts as in law professors? Folks invested in perpetuating the cycle of litigation? Hell, the foxes have conducted the study and didn't even have time to extract the feathers from between their teeth.

In the tort reform debate, there is copious spin -- on both sides -- and precious little truth.


At 6:38 PM, Blogger CGHill said...

I have some reservations about the size of damage awards, but I tend to think that the single biggest contribution to high malpractice-insurance costs is, well, malpractice; after all, half of our doctors are below average.

At 2:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm at the Alamo listen.... The stars are bright eash and every nght (clap clap clap..Clap)

At 2:13 PM, Blogger Bruce said...

When the evidence points to the wrong conclusion: change the subject, or blame gays, or blame lawyers, or democrats, liberals, environmental "extremists", or just about anyone but the Republicans and their corporate sponsors.


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