Emory Scholar Finds Americans Denied Access to Justice with Current Medical Tort System

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Patients for Fair Compensation cites new study that reports many patients harmed by physicians have limited access to justice.

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About half the attorneys in the United States won’t take a case unless damages are at least $500,000, making access to justice impossible for many patients harmed by physicians, according to new research by Emory University scholar Joanna Shepherd-Bailey.

Shepherd-Bailey, a professor of law and economics at the Emory University School of Law, is releasing her groundbreaking research: “Justice in Crisis: Victim Access to the Medical Liability System” today. It will also be presented to lawmakers Friday at the annual Georgia legislative policy forum.

“To lawyers, it is not cost-effective to represent clients that cannot earn them huge returns,” Shepherd-Bailey said. “For patients, there is little access to justice, and few get compensation for their loss.”

Her research finds that victims will often search for attorneys to take a case and yet find few takers. Shepherd-Bailey also surveyed attorneys nationwide and found:

  • Even for a case they are likely to win, about half of attorneys will not take the case unless expected damages are $500,000 or greater
  • An overwhelming majority of the attorneys said they rejected more than 90 percent of the cases screened
  • Attorneys responded that economic factors— either insufficient damages or the expense of litigation—were their primary reasons for rejecting cases

Other research found it takes four years for a case to be resolved in court and because of litigation expenses and other transaction costs, victims keep only 40 to 60 percent of their damages as compensation.

“The poor and the elderly lose out the most under our current medical liability system. They have the least access to justice,” said Richard L. Jackson, chairman of Patients for Fair Compensation. “Something must change because all who are medically harmed should be treated equally.”

Patients for Fair Compensation is seeking a replacement of the current medical litigation system with one that is timely and predictable.

Under the proposed Patients’ Compensation System, a patient who was medically harmed could file a claim for review by a panel of experts. If that panel deemed the injury was “avoidable,” the claim would be forwarded to a Compensation Board to award compensation within six months.

To view the research paper, go to: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2147915

Shepherd-Bailey teaches torts, law and economics, analytical methods for lawyers and statistics for lawyers at the Emory University School of Law. She has a Ph.D. in economics from Emory University and has been published in numerous scholarly journals including top law reviews and peer-reviewed economics journals. Shepherd-Bailey has testified before the U.S. House of Representatives and the Committee on Law and Justice at the National Academy of Sciences.

Patients for Fair Compensation is a 501(c) 4 organization dedicated to educating and proposing policy solutions to ensure access to real justice for injured patients by eliminating up to $650 billion per year nationally of unnecessary costs due to defensive medicine.

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Susan L. Meyers
Patients for Fair Compensation
(404) 518-2271
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