Health Courts? No Thanks, Say Trial Lawyers

Law 360
Saturday, June 17, 2006

A proposal to create health courts that would exclusively handle medical malpractice disputes has gained some momentum, with bills pending in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. But consumer advocates and trial attorneys say it's an idea that doesn't deserve to fly.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) would finance pilot health courts in certain states. The bill had a hearing in June before the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions.

But not everyone agrees that specialized health courts would be a good idea. Consumer and legal advocates say the proposal would erase the fundamental right of a jury trial, and replace it with expensive bureaucracies that could be easily corrupted by special interest groups.
Strong opposition to health courts comes from many quarters, including the Center for Justice & Democracy and the Association of Trial Lawyer of America.
These groups say that the U.S. justice system is based on judges and juries learning about a conflict and its background during a trial. Thus, there is no need for judges with specialized knowledge.
They also say the public will be denied access to juries, which will be replaced with an administrative bureaucracy that will be no cheaper to maintain than the current legal systems.
Amy Widman, policy attorney with the Center for Justice and Democracy, said a settlement schedule could easily become biased toward hospitals and insurance companies.
If the courts followed a scale for damages, she said, the amounts would be reduced over time through lobbying. "It becomes less about compensating the injured, and the person who suffers is the consumer."…


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