‘Health Courts’ Proposed to Fix Civil Malpractice System

The New Standard
Tuesday, June 27, 2006

John McCormack agrees with many that the medical malpractice system needs to be reformed. Just don't take away his right to a trial by jury.

McCormack lost his 13-month-old daughter to a medical error in 2000 when doctors at the Children's Hospital in Boston postponed an operation to relieve fluid in her skull. He's been fighting for accountability – first for his family, and now for others – ever since.

If some organizations and many politicians, physicians, and the healthcare and insurance industries get their way, however, McCormick says other victims of medical malpractice will have a more difficult time finding closure under a proposal to establish separate "health courts" outside the civil court system.

However, mounting evidence suggests the contrary. A study in 2005 by the Center for Justice and Democracy, a consumer advocacy group focused on defending the civil litigation system from tort reform, found that the 15 largest insurers are taking in more than double the premiums accrued in 2000, while litigation payouts have risen by just about 5.7 percent in the same time period.

[Joanne] Doroshow said, "The real fear here is that the catastrophically injured are going to get caught up in a reform that's going to hurt their ability to get adequate compensation."

While Howard said health courts would help alleviate an overburdened system, Doroshow predicted that defendants would be less likely to settle cases out of court under the proposed system in which exorbitant penalties are forbidden.

"If you take away the threat of litigation, you're actually going to make it more difficult for patients" to secure a settlement from defendants, Doroshow said.


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