Personal Injury Lawyers
Attorney Van O'Steen

Law Doesn't Solve Medical Malpractice Insurance 'Crisis'

Van O'Steen

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During a so-called “medical malpractice insurance crisis” in the mid-1980’s, an Illinois judge declared unconstitutional many portions of a new state law designed to place limitations on medical malpractice claims.

The new law was enacted by the Illinois Legislature as a reaction to the claim that the size of malpractice awards is creating an insurance "crisis."

Because insurance companies have substantially raised many premiums in recent years, it seemed reasonable to believe that malpractice claims were chiefly responsible for the increases.

The Illinois judge, however, found another cause for the rising cost of malpractice insurance. He concluded there was no support for the claim that a medical malpractice insurance crisis exists. The judge found that rising insurance rates were caused by poor investments made by insurance companies. These losses, he said, had to be recovered by increasing premiums to policyholders.

Another view of the malpractice insurance problem was expressed by former Federal Insurance Administration official J. Robert Hunter: "What we are witnessing is a manufactured crisis intended to bloat insurer profits and reduce victims' rights.

The Arizona Legislature periodically considers sweeping changes in our laws pertaining to accident victims. Some of these proposed changes may again appear on a general election ballot. Among the commonly proposed changes are provisions to limit the size of an injured person's claim and to regulate contingent lawyer fees.

Studies conducted by such organizations as the Rand Corporation, St. Paul Insurance Companies and the American Medical Association reveal that such measures are likely to have no meaningful impact on the number of malpractice claims, the size of malpractice awards or the amount doctors pay for malpractice insurance.

While the present system may be flawed, we should insist that any changes we make serve an important public purpose. The solution should fit the problem, and it should be done with the least possible harm to individual rights, especially those of injury victims.

The American journalist H.L. Mencken once observed that for every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, direct and wrong.