New Study Shows Medical Malpractice Damage Caps Do Not Bring More Doctors into the State

Illinois medical negligence lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm strongly advocate against medical malpractice damage caps that limit a victim’s chance at justice. A new study suggests that damage caps may be constitutional, but they do not effectively achieve one of their primary healthcare goals. According to the study, which focused on Texas, the supply of doctors in the state did not increase after a strict damage cap was implemented.

Proponents of tort reform often tout the fact that damage caps increase healthcare availability, but this claim appears to be untrue. Theoretically, one might think that more doctors would flock to a state with a strict budget cap that could help them avoid a large medical malpractice jury verdict. However, the latest data from Texas shows otherwise. State lawmakers passed tort reform legislation back in 2003, which capped medical malpractice awards at $250,000 per provider. It also set an impossible standard of negligence, requiring proof that doctors knowingly and purposefully endangered their patients. Despite these extreme measures, the number of available healthcare providers remains the same.

In fact, the new study suggests that inaccurate data is being used to misrepresent the number of available healthcare providers in the state. Texas officials wrongfully claim that the number of providers has increased in response to the damage cap, based on licensing statistics from 2001 thru 2010. The study gives numerous reasons why the increase is actually due to outside factors. For example, the increased licensing rates came in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when doctors that were displaced by the natural disaster may have sought new employment in neighboring states because they were unable to keep practicing at their old locations.

Additionally, the study suggests that licenses do not necessarily translate into more patient care. Licensed doctors also do research and perform other healthcare industry jobs that have nothing to do with patient interaction. Finally, and perhaps most glaringly, the licensing statistics relied on by reform supporters do not account for the number of doctors retiring or leaving their practices in the state. Without balancing forward progress against the rate of deteriorating practitioners, the new study claims that it would be impossible to present an accurate picture of year-to-year care availability in the state. Although statistics are available that factor in the number of outgoing doctors, proponents of tort reform have never used these more precise numbers. This concerns our medical negligence attorneys because damage caps wrongly interfere with a patient’s right to collect full damages. Medical victims have a right to accurate information and fair compensation
Take for example, the family of a child suffering from severe brain damage in Pennsylvania that recently received a large damage award. A negligently delayed delivery caused the child to suffer severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy. The Philadelphia Business Journal reported on this tragic case of medical malpractice. In part due to poorly maintained and outdated ultrasound equipment, doctors were unable to identify the fetal heartbeat for approximately 81 minutes and mistakenly believed the child was dead. This mistake led to a $78 million damage award for emotional distress and future care and support for the child. Unfortunately, if this was a Texas case, the damages would be limited to a mere $250,000. This is clearly not full and fair compensation.

Our experienced Chicago medical malpractice attorneys know that damage awards play a critical role in helping medical mistake victims and their families move forward from devastating trauma. Many of these families are forced to suffer severe emotional distress and a lifetime of medical bills. Damage caps impede their right to justice and allow for a serious decline in the standard of medical care.

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