Friday, May 12, 2006

Tortuous Logic of Tort Reform: Spin, Baby, Spin

In the ever-shrill debate over tort reform, particularly as it relates to the world of medical malpractice, I would never be so presumptuous as to claim litigious America is free of frivolous lawsuits. But before Republicans continue to paint trial attorneys as only slightly less evil than Islamist terrorists, child molesters and aluminum-siding salesmen, it is worth noting a recent Harvard University study on the matter.

Researchers concluded:

"One popular justification for tort reform is the claim that 'frivolous' medical malpractice lawsuits ... enrich plaintiffs’ attorneys and drive up health care costs. A new study by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital challenges the view that frivolous litigation is rampant and expensive (emphasis added).

"The researchers analyzed past malpractice claims to judge the volume of meritless lawsuits and determine their outcomes. Their findings suggest that portraits of a malpractice system riddled with frivolous lawsuits are overblown. Although nearly one third of claims lacked clear-cut evidence of medical error, most of these suits did not receive compensation. In fact, the number of meritorious claims that did not get paid was actually larger than the group of meritless claims that were paid."

In fact, researchers determined that the vast majority of malpractice claims involve medical error or serious injury, and that claims with merit were far more likely to be paid than claims without merit.

Nevertheless, the spin from the news media was a bit different than how the researchers interpreted the data. Check out these headlines: "Four Out of 10 Malpractice Cases Are Groundless" (from AP) or "Study Casts Doubt on Some MD Tort Suits" (from UPI).

Why should the news media attempt to fully examine tort reform, after all, when it is a given that attorneys are evil swine? What journalists, doctors and too many Republicans refuse to recognize are the implications of the chief sticking point in tort reform, that being a cap on noneconomic damages. Under that scenario, only the wealthier Americans would have a real shot at judicial redress. All men might be created equal, but apparently it is impossible that they would suffer equally.


At 11:46 AM, Anonymous flamewhore said...

Excellent post Chase!! Your closing line was very clever.


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