“Frivolous” Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Written by Faith Anderson on April 5, 2011
Georgia Republican Gingrey has introduced earlier versions of the medical malpractice bill which he supports with the claim that such cases are often without merit. It’s a wonder Gingrey so vigorously advocates a bill to limit malpractice awards, since he was an obstetrician for thirty years before being elected to Congress in 2002. During this time, Gingrey faced three medical malpractice lawsuits in which he paid out settlements twice and a jury found against him once. Because of a case filed against Gingrey in 2002, a $500,000 settlement was paid out to a woman and her husband who claimed that Gingrey failed to diagnose the woman’s appendicitis which led to the loss of her fetus. As a result of the condition, the woman also suffered respiratory distress and a partially disabling stroke.
Gingrey’s Medical Malpractice Bill
If this medical malpractice bill is passed, damages for pain and suffering in malpractice lawsuits would be capped at $250,000. In addition, the bill would restrict fees paid to lawyers representing patients and would offer alternative actions to medical malpractice lawsuits for resolving medical disputes. Also included in the bill is a restriction against the awarding of punitive damages in lawsuits filed against manufacturing companies which produce drugs, medical devices, and other products which are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Supporters of bills like the one proposed by Gingrey claim that there are too many medical malpractice lawsuits being filed against healthcare providers without merit. Some advocates of limited medical malpractice awards site a 2006 study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which states that 40% of medical malpractice lawsuits are without merit. However, the study also indicates that, among this 40%, are claims which are primarily filed in order for the plaintiff to collect the information necessary before being able to decide whether to proceed. This includes determining whether or not medical malpractice was the cause of the injuries sustained. According to the Harvard study, 80% of the medical malpractice claims filed involved significant disabling injuries or death. Although some of these claims were determined not to be caused by medical error, and thereby classified as “frivolous” as defined by the law, the injuries sustained were decidedly not frivolous in the everyday sense of the word, which is unimportant or trivial.
Victims of Medical Malpractice
Supporters of Gingrey’s bill believe that there are too many instances of medical malpractice claims in which the plaintiff receives undue compensation for his injuries. However, the Harvard study actually found that a greater number of legitimate victims of medical malpractice did not receive compensation, one in six claims, compared to the number of plaintiffs who received awards for claims that could have been classified as frivolous. Victims or the families of victims who suffer severe, life-altering injury or even death caused by medical malpractice are entitled to adequate financial reimbursement for their injuries and pain and suffering. Without financial compensation, injury victims are left to bear the overwhelming physical and financial burden of treating and living with a disabling injury that could have been avoided.
Although Gingrey and advocates of his legislature sought to diminish the prevalence of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits by proposing this bill, Gingrey’s bill instead punishes individuals who have suffered legitimately severe, life-altering injuries resulting from medical negligence. Bills such as the one proposed by Gingrey rob victims of their right to collect the compensation they deserve, simply because of the assumption that the majority of Americans will find any excuse they can in order to sue. According to Harvard researchers though, the majority of individuals who sustain a medical injury resulting from negligence do not sue. Contrary to what some may believe, our society is not filled with scammers looking to make an easy buck by picking the pockets of medical professionals. By proposing bills to prevent frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, lawmakers have succeeded in further crippling those individuals who have suffered devastating injuries as a result of medical negligence.