Not long ago it used to be that most states in the United States had laws that made sure that all people remained on a level playing field — everyone was treated equally in the eyes of the law. If someone wrongfully injured you, that person was responsible for the injuries he caused — for example, if a bad driver rear-ended your stopped vehicle and you were injured as a result, the negligent driver (through his insurance company) had to pay you monetary compensation to “make you whole” (in other words, the negligent driver’s insurance company would make a payment to you to compensate you for your medical expenses, your lost wages, and your pain and suffering that resulted from the collision that happened through no fault of your own). Whereas the Bible may have provided for “an eye for an eye,” our civil laws provided for financial compensation for victims of negligent wrongdoing (thankfully, our laws did not provide that the negligent driver would be required to allow the person he injured to drive a vehicle into him and injure him as punishment for his carelessness). Our society valued personal responsibility — people knew and accepted that they would be held fully liable for the injuries that they carelessly caused other people — we didn’t tell injured people, “too bad, use your children’s college fund to pay your doctors and if that’s not enough, move in with your in-laws — I’m not paying!”
So what has happened to personal responsibility in medical malpractice claims?
When doctors began complaining to their respective state representatives that they were paying too much for medical malpractice insurance (notably, they weren’t denying that some of their colleagues were committing medical malpractice that had caused great harm to their patients), the states did not investigate the medical malpractice insurance companies to determine if there was justification why insurance premiums were being raised so much, year-after-year, but they did decide without guidance or input from ordinary citizens that restrictions were necessary on the amounts that innocent victims of medical malpractice could obtain even if the out-of-pocket costs and other injuries and damages far exceeded the “caps” that were placed on monetary recoveries (“caps” are the maximum amount that a careless health care provider is required to pay (usually through his or her medical malpractice insurance company) no matter the extent of harm done). Most people were blissfully oblivious to the great harm that caps would cause because most people believed that they would never be affected by the caps (“I have a good doctor and he would never hurt me.”).
For example, if the cap was limited to $200,000.00 for economic losses such as past and future medical bills and past and future lost wages, then a 21-year-old athlete who became a quadriplegic because a doctor negligently screwed up his neck surgery would receive a maximum of $200,000.00 from the doctor’s medical malpractice insurance company even though his life-time medical bills will exceed many millions of dollars and he will suffer millions of dollars in lost wages during his shortened life.
How does this affect you and why should you care?
Besides the moral and ethical issues involved in limiting a person’s right to be “made whole,” the caps shift the costs of injuries from the negligent medical care provider (or his insurance company) to the federal government and the states (that is, to us). Because the quadriplegic athlete in our example above cannot afford to pay his millions of dollars in medical bills, Medicaid (state-provided and state-paid medical care) will have to provide the necessary around-the-clock medical care and federal Social Security benefits (paid from the federal taxes we all pay) will also be provided to him. So instead of a medical malpractice insurance company covering the costs of its insured doctor’s medical mistake, we will pay.
How did the medical profession accomplish this shift of the financial burden of medical malpractice mistakes from those medical caregivers who messed up to the rest of us? By convincing their patients that medical malpractice claims were “frivolous lawsuits” and that caps were necessary reforms (that is “tort reform”) to make sure that negligent health care providers were not forced out of the medical profession and into another job where they could not cause catastrophic injuries to innocent victims of their medical mistakes.
If you or a loved one have been injured or killed as a result of medical malpractice, visit our website to be connected with medical malpractice lawyers in your local community who may be able to assist you with your medical malpractice claim. Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn. Our toll free telephone number is 800-295-3959.