Medical Malpractice Reform Advocates Are Not Telling The Truth, Asserts Leading New York Personal Injury Lawyer

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The endless barrage of allegations by republican lawmakers and big insurance companies who blame medical malpractice lawsuits for the skyrocketing cost of healthcare in this country are all lies, according to one prominent lawyers and former president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association.

There is no better system of justice

The endless barrage of allegations by Republican lawmakers and big insurance companies who blame medical malpractice lawsuits for the skyrocketing cost of healthcare in this country are all lies, according to one New York medical malpractice lawyer who has spent an entire 38-year career fighting for the rights of patients, many of whose lives have been ruined, even ended wrongfully, by careless doctors and negligent hospitals.

"The truth is," said Richard Gurfein, a partner in the New York-based law firm of Gurfein Douglas and a former president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, "the cost of medical malpractice litigation, including the amount of money doctors pay for medical malpractice insurance premiums, the costs of defense lawyers and their investigations and the insurance company payments to patients, in aggregate, represents only about 1% of the total cost of healthcare in this country. But to hear republicans in Congress, and their insurance industry collaborators talk about it, you would think that malpractice litigation is the only factor responsible for driving up the cost of healthcare, and that tort reform is the only solution to the problem."

In countless statements made by insurance industry executives and their republican sympathizers over the past 25 years, including the constant drubbing taken by trial attorneys during the 8-year reign of George W. Bush, the American public has come to believe that juries in medical malpractice lawsuits are just giving money away to plaintiffs "for the hell of it." "That, too," Gurfein said, "is a lie."

"These people are making a mockery out of our civil justice system," Gurfein said. "The fact is, 70% of all malpractice cases in New York State are won by the defendant, the doctor. Which is not to say that cases plaintiffs lose are frivolous. On the contrary, it underscores the tragic situation we find ourselves in today. The American public has been so brainwashed by the relentless onslaught of misinformation disseminated by doctors and their insurers, in the form of TV commercials, advertisements in newspapers and magazines, and other public relations tactics funded in large part by the insurance industry lobby and the business council, that it's almost impossible for plaintiffs to get a fair trial, and thus receive fair compensation for the injuries they have suffered at the hands of negligent doctors. Just try and add up what it might cost a family over the lifetime of child who was brain-damaged at birth by a careless doctor."

According to Gurfein, the high cost of malpractice insurance has almost nothing to do with lawsuits, or jury awards.

"High insurance premiums," Gurfein explained, "are a result of four things: one: medical malpractice committed by doctors; two: greedy insurance companies writing policies they shouldn't write; three: poor investment choices and a weak stock market for the insurance industry; four: the high cost of maintaining a catastrophically injured patient. Changing the civil justice system for malpractice cases won't change any of these cost factors.

"There is no better system of justice," he added, "than to have a jury of your peers hear the evidence and decide the truth of the claims. Built into any other alternative proffered by the tort reformers, such as having panels of doctors decide if a plaintiff's claim merits legal intervention, is innate bias and prejudice. If you let doctors decide if a malpractice claim is valid before it's allowed to reach the courts, our civil justice system would become a bureaucratic nightmare and the patient would have no one to take their side.

"What doctors want is absolute immunity from suit. They never believe they've done anything wrong, even in cases where their behavior has been abominable. What they are really saying is they want absolute immunity from personal responsibility, and let everyone else (you, the taxpayer) share the cost of their mistakes. The point that people seem to be missing is that if the doctor who causes the problem isn't held accountable, the cost of caring for the damaged patient falls on the state, which is paid for with our tax dollars. Remember, 50% of all malpractice is caused by less than 10% of the doctors. If there was no piper to pay, these same doctors would maim and damage patients routinely."

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Richard Jachetti
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