Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Tortuous Logic of Tort Reform: Florida Fun Facts

More uncertainties surround whether skyrocketing medical malpractice rates are the fault of money-grubbing lawyers and easily-led juries (cue: hissing from the audience), or that maybe -- just maybe -- the rising costs have something to do with the insurance companies that are the ones actually jacking up premiums.

Here comes more evidence for Republicans to dispute. Hot on the heels of a Texas study that found no correlation between rising malpractice insurance rates and lawsuits, another examination now finds the same dad-gum situation in Florida.

The Palm Beach Post details the Duke University study, which notes medical malpractice rates in the Sunshine State climbed by as much as 50 percent -- but without a concomitant rise in big lawsuit awards:

"The Duke researchers examined closed malpractice insurance claims filed with the state Department of Health between 1990 and 2003. Florida law requires insurers to submit reports on closed claims.

"The study found that the per capita number of malpractice claims in 1990 was about the same as in 2003. It also found that the majority of payouts $1 million or more were not awarded by juries, but the parties settled outside court. Florida juries awarded 60 of the 801 million-dollar payouts made between 1990 and 2003.

" 'We should be looking at what's happening in the settlement rather than what's happening with the jury," [Duke researcher Neil] Vidmar said. 'The real action is happening in the negotiations rather than in the jury room.'

"The study also concluded that the average malpractice award went up and more million-dollar payouts were made. But the researchers also found the number of severe cases, which usually result in higher payouts, increased between 1990 and 2003.

"Another study dovetails with the Duke researchers' findings. Tom Baker, a University of Connecticut professor specializing in insurance law, said he found that the amounts malpractice insurance companies nationwide are paying out for claims have not increased, leading him to conclude that lawsuits aren't the problem.

" 'When we're getting the same answer using completely different research methods, you can be pretty sure we're right,' Baker said of the two studies. 'If what you want to do is protect doctors from the next malpractice insurance crisis, tort reform is not going to do it.' "

When Republicans ease up on the almost pathalogical determination to emasculate trial attorneys, and when Democrats give up on their slavish vow to protect attorneys at all costs -- oh, to dream -- then we just might find a remedy in the tort reform quagmire.

(Thanks to The Gadflyer)


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