Girardi | Keese

Here Come Those Frivolous Lawsuits Again

If you're ever injured at the doctor's office, your smile won't be so big.

smiling woman at doctor.jpeg

In general, politicians are supposed to help enact law that makes our lives better. (That's one way of looking at lawmaking, among others.) Lawmaking that improves our lives isn't an easy thing to accomplish, given the push and pull of opposing interests. A prime example of push and pull is what happens in Congress. At the moment, lawmakers there are hoping to replace the Affordable Care Act. Part of the proposal involves serious changes to medical malpractice law.

Are 'frivolous lawsuits' truly a problem?

No - at least not as problematic as some lawmakers say.

As the New York Times reports, the bill would have a serious impact on ordinary Americans' ability to hold negligent doctors and other healthcare providers accountable for medical mistakes.

The Times quotes White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who apparently believes that malpractice lawyers are running amok, driving up the cost of health care in America, when he referenced the old throwback to "frivolous lawsuits."

The trick here, though, is that most malpractice lawyers don't make it a habit of bringing frivolous lawsuits that they have no hope of winning. Most would agree that lowering the cost of health care is good, but it's far from certain that its high cost lies solely because of litigation, frivolous or otherwise.

Here's what's in the bill:

The federal bill - which means these changes would play out nationally - would seek to put an end to those pesky suits by:

  • Capping damages for pain and suffering at $250,000 (California already has such a limit)
  • Including negligence cases arising out of nursing homes under that limit (as the Times reports, California exempts nursing home cases from the damages cap)
  • Exempting doctors/pharmacists who prescribe dangerous drugs (that are FDA cleared) from products liability lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies
  • Restricting malpractice attorneys' contingency fees

Policy report: 'No doctor is safe from lawsuit abuse'

According to some lawmakers, especially those who support this bill, no doctor is safe from lawsuit abuse. To a certain extent, that's true. No doctor is safe from a lawsuit - if the doctor happens to be one who committed a serious medical mistake, and his or her patient's life was changed because of it.

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