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Truth Behind the “Malpractice Crisis”

In the past decade, more than thirty states have enacted some type of medical malpractice award cap in response to what has been touted as a “malpractice crisis.” The central issue to this “crisis” has been the continual increase in malpractice insurance premiums and healthcare costs, which many claim to be the result of juries awarding multimillion-dollar malpractice awards. However, in March 2014, the Supreme Court of Florida overturned the states malpractice damage cap which had been installed in 2003. The court refused to uphold the cap because they determined it was unconstitutional. In their opinion, the court said that the limitation was illogical because it was “saving a modest amount for most by imposing devastating costs on a few—those who are most grievously injured, those who sustained the greatest damage and loss…simply based upon the existence of the cap.”

The most interesting part of the courts’ opinion was not its critique of the law, but rather its critique of the “malpractice crisis.” Prior to the installment of the cap in Florida, its supporters had pointed to a decreasing number of doctors within the state as a sign that large insurance premiums were causing for doctors to flee to states with lower rates. Yet the court recognized that the facts showed that there had been and continues to be an increase in doctors. Such is the case in many states, including Pennsylvania.

Furthermore, it turned out that the majority of malpractice awards over $1 million came from settlements rather than juries, and that on average juries tended to award fewer damages.

Lastly, the court noted that malpractice caps had no noticeable effect on healthcare rates or insurance premiums within the states that had installed them. It turns out that it was only the insurance companies who were able to profit from such caps.

Fortunately, Pennsylvania has not placed a malpractice award cap on the courts, and as more and more information becomes available as to the effectiveness of such caps, it appears less likely that there ever will be one. The door to the Pennsylvania courts remains open to all, and it should stay that way.

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