Medical negligence claims are the subject of a vigorous debate in the United States. The debate has malpractice attorneys and patient rights groups on one side and doctors and well funded small c conservative lobby groups on the other. The two sides are engaged in a death grip over the question of whether medical malpractice lawsuits should be limited in both scope and availability. This particular debate is occurring in the context of a wider tort reform movement driven by corporations which are facing increasingly high litigation costs. In the medical malpractice arena the argument is that these law suits are frivolous and increase the cost of medical care due to increases in malpractice insurance premiums and unnecessary diagnostic procedures as doctors engage in defensive medicine.
Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform
In some states the tort reform movement has been successful in getting legislative initiatives passed. These legal reforms commonly include a cap on the amount of damages that may be awarded for non-pecuniary claims. Non-pecuniary claims are recompense for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of the amenities of life. Some states now also require certain pre-conditions be met before a medical malpractice lawsuit may be commenced. The argument against the imposition of caps on damages in medical negligence claims is that this step penalizes those injured patients who have a genuine claim as opposed to addressing the issue of frivolous claims. In Canada we have had a cap on non-economic damages in all personal injury cases as a result of a trilogy of cases decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1978. One may argue whether such a cap should exist but certainly in Canada medical negligence claims are not singled out for disadvantageous treatment as they now are in certain states in America.
So while successful medical malpractice actions do achieve the legitimate goal of financial redress for harm caused by another’s wrongdoing the debate going on south of our border begs the question of whether there is other societal value that is created by these cases. Academic students of tort law are well aware that one of the oft stated goals of the common law in allowing for tort recovery is to modify human, societal and corporate behaviour to reduce the occurrence of harm caused by negligent or intentional acts. In practice one wonders whether this is always the case. Now a new study conducted at the New York Law School has found evidence that past experience of medical negligence claims does lead to reform of medical procedures that benefit patients.
Medical Negligence Claims Improve Patient Safety and Reduce Litigation
The study is published in the journal Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. The study authors searched for medical societies that have systematically examined closed medical negligence claims in their specialty to develop specific standards of physician conduct. They then searched the medical literature for published evidence of the efficacy, if any, related to the patient safety measures thus developed. What they found was that anaesthesia and obstetric physician societies have successfully targeted costs and related concerns arising from medical malpractice lawsuits by using data from closed claims to develop patient safety and treatment guidelines. In both specialties, after institution of safety measures derived from closed medical negligence claims, the incidence and costs related to medical malpractice decreased and physician satisfaction improved. Their conclusion was that safety guidelines derived from analyzing past medical malpractice litigation can achieve the same goals as tort reform while also promoting patient safety. Indeed not only was patient safety increased but litigation was also reduced. More information about the study can be found by ordering the report at this link “Closed medical negligence claims can drive patient safety and reduce litigation”
The effect of Medical Malpractice Civil Suits in Canada
While we are not aware of a similar study done in Canada we believe that in practice medical negligence claims do improve patient care and physician awareness. Our belief is informed by the actions of the Canadian Medical Protective Association. The CMPA as it is known to us in the medical malpractice industry is the defender of medical malpractice law suits brought against physicians in Canada. It offers educational services and information to help members and professional medical organizations improve patient safety and reduce medico-legal risk. Its learning is informed by the knowledge gained through its defence of medical negligence claims in Canada. It regularly publishes articles on how to manage risk in medical practice.
Malpractice Lawyers in Canada
For more information on medical negligence claims visit our medical malpractice litigation page by clicking on this link medical malpractice lawyers.