Urban Communities Lose When Trial Lawyers Win
by Deneen Moore
When trial lawyers win excessive monetary awards in lawsuits against doctors and health care facilities, urban communities lose.
The number of medical malpractice lawsuits has climbed steadily over the years, contributing to skyrocketing medical liability insurance premiums for doctors and medical health care facilities and massive payouts. These costs are passed on to patients through higher medical costs and less - or no - services.
Some doctors and medical facilities are being forced to adjust to increasing litigation risks, and it's not good for patients. Doctors are moving to other states and neighborhoods or closing their doors for good to limit their exposure to litigation.
Because of the lack of legal reform in the health care arena, higher insurance premiums and disappearing services are the unfortunate consequences facing urban communities.
For example, The Manhattan Institute's Center for Legal Policy estimates that physicians will lose approximately one-third of the malpractice suits brought against them. In an effort to limit liability, some doctors are actively working to protect their assets and reputations against malpractice suits. One strategy to shield themselves is for doctors to provide patients with unnecessary medical referrals to specialists. This extremely expensive path not only adds to a patient's bill (and the cost to their insurer) but also makes things time-consuming for the patient and professionals who could be seeing others who legitimately and urgently require their care.
Another course is for specialists to alter their practices so they incur less risk. Obstetrics, neurology and orthopedics are known as high-risk medical specialties, and they are being targeted by trial lawyers.
Because of the increased risk of a malpractice lawsuit related to childbirth-related complications, many obstetricians now refuse to deliver newborns. With an average annual insurance premium of $130,000, many obstetricians who previously devoted their lives to delivering babies now only provide gynecological services.
Another target in the trial lawyers' crosshairs are medical care facilities that provide quality care to urban communities. It could lead to these facilities disappearing from areas where demand for care is vital.
According to the Center for Legal Policy, hospitals and medical care facilities are estimated to lose about half of the medical malpractice lawsuits filed against them, with the average monetary award against them in excess of six million dollars. The closure of facilities due to increased insurance premiums and legal payouts create problems in emergency situations. It threatens to diminish the quality of life in at-risk neighborhoods because emergency medical care must be obtained from locations that are further away and perhaps not as accessible.
Trial lawyers seek to portray themselves as heroes of the common man, and many accept this puffed-up image at face value. In reality, however, it seems more trial lawyers are motivated by personal greed. The lack of legal reform in the health care arena provides fertile grounds for abuse.
Public misunderstanding is exacerbated by the lack of critical reporting by the media and the constant barrage of advertising by law firms seeking "justice" for would-be plaintiffs. Meanwhile, urban communities pay the price with dwindling access to doctors and medical facilities.
While the going is good, trial lawyers will continue to prey upon the unsuspecting individuals and communities to line their pockets with millions of dollars.
Legal reform is a national issue affecting everyone. But the problems related to lawsuit abuse are magnified in urban communities because these areas are likely to be left with limited alternatives for quality medical care. Without medical-related legal reform, the losses suffered by urban communities will continue to be a matter of life and death.
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Deneen Moore is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. Comments many be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints
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