The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

GWB, tort reform, and a "judicial hellhole"

Apparently, GWB is coming to our state to push tort reforms (see Chicago Tribune article here). I recently found that Michigan has capped malpractice awards in the case of wrongful death at $300,000. Isn't it nice to know how much you are really worth? Next time someone asks you what good you are or how much you're worth, you can honestly reply "I'll have you know, sir, that I am worth exactly $300,000." It's actually cheaper there to kill someone than simply maim them. Somehow this seems wrong. Maybe I'm just a bleeding heart.

There are certainly issues that need to be addressed in our system of malpractice/liability suits as well as the insurance system we've created to cover cases of negligence. However, capping wrongful death and non-economic (read: punitive) awards seems to have a mixed effect at best. For a summary of research that has been conducted on the effects of state tort reform measures, see CBO article here. At least the Bush administration is consistent though: caps on damage awards are in line with the administration's implicit goal of reducing personal rights and options for recourse.

Pertinent excerpts from the Chicago Tribune article referenced above:

The AMA, however, argues that skyrocketing premiums for medical liability insurance--$200,000 a year and more for doctors in high-risk specialties--are forcing physicians to curtail services, retire early or pull up stakes and move to states with lower premiums.

The Congressional Budget Office attributes the problem of rising liability insurance costs to several factors. Premiums for physicians nationwide rose by 15 percent between 2000 and 2002, according to a January 2004 CBO report. Since 1993, premiums for all physicians have increased by about 25 percent.


Growing claims are partly to blame, the CBO found, with the average payment for a medical malpractice claim rising "fairly steadily" since 1986, from $95,000 to $320,000 in 2002. But insurers also have been forced to raise premiums to offset reduced investment income.


"We have not promised price reductions with tort reform," said Dennis Kelly, an American Insurance Association spokesman. "We want tort reform to create a more balanced legal system that is more equitable for all parties."

I feel so much better knowing that the insurance companies care about me.


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