Medical Malpractice Caps are Racially Discriminatory, New Report Says

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

For Release:
May 10, 2005
Contact: Amber Hard
Chicago, IL - Limits on the rights of patients who have been killed or injured due to medical malpractice disproportionately hurt racial and ethnic minorities because these groups are more likely to receive negligent medical care, according to a new report from the Center for Justice & Democracy -Illinois (CJ&D), released today with the Illinois Conference of the NAACP. 
“Laws that limit patients’ access to the courts, such as caps on compensation, are being sold to Illinois residents as economic issues, relating to the cost of insurance, access to health care providers and even jobs,” said Don Jackson, President of the Illinois Statewide Conference of the NAACP .  “However, as with other critical issues of the last 20 years, such as bank lending and access to capital, behind this deceptive effort is a more insidious agenda that specifically hurts racial and ethnic minorities.” 
Minorities receive inferior medical treatment by the health care industry and are being subjected to high rates of preventable medical errors, according to the CJ&D study entitled Medical Malpractice “Caps” and Racial Prejudice in Illinois; A Troublesome Connection.  As a result, limits on the rights of patients who have been killed or injured due to medical malpractice will disproportionately hurt racial and ethnic minorities in Illinois.  Complicating these issues is the fact that racial and ethnic minorities are uninsured more often than non-Hispanic whites, a status that frequently results in less than adequate care and poor health consequences.
In addition, the report found, specific limits on non-economic damages, such as a cap being considered by the Illinois legislature, have a disproportionate impact on low wage-earners who are more likely to receive a greater percentage of their compensation in the form of non-economic damages if they are injured.
Upon release of a 2004 national study on this topic, “Tort Reform” and Racial Prejudice: A Troublesome Connection, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, said, “The dirty little secret of the so-called tort reform movement is that it is premised on racist notions, and would have a massively disproportionate impact on African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities.… The restrictions on non-economic damages … will also have a severe and disproportionate impact on minorities.”
 “It is a tragic and unfair fact of life that minorities are frequently forced to bear a disproportionately large share of Illinois’ health and safety problems,” said Amber Hard, Staff Director of CJ&D-Illinois.  “Whether it is inferior medical care or any number of other indignities and injuries that juries are asked to evaluate every day, our civil justice system provides an essential tool to combat injustice in Illinois.  Yet for the last several years, Illinois’ insurance and medical lobbies have fought to undermine the civil justice system, particulary in the area of medical malpractice.  Their proposals, which have become the medical and insurance lobbies’ number one legislative focus, would severely undermine the protections and rights afforded to racial and ethnic minorities in our state.”

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