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Obama Flip-flops on Tort Reform in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits (January 30, 2011)
President Barack Obama appears to have finally caved in to the conservative medical lobby fighting for so-called tort reform. For the first time during his recent "State of the Union" speech he stated that he was now in favor of tort reform in medical malpractice cases limiting the rights of victims to seek monetary damages. This is a total about face from his previous stance which opposed limiting patients damages. It is clear that Obama's change reflects his desire to be re-elected to office by picking up some conservative votes.
In the State of Illinois similar attempts at tort reform have failed as the Illinois Supreme Court has on several occasions struck down legislation passed by the legislature. The high court correctly recognized that tort reform for a single class of cases namely medical malpractice is unconstitutional.
What the general public fails to understand is that the current financial crisis results from the lack of control of the major health insurance companies that continue to receive record profits while significantly decreasing the reimbursement received by doctors and hospitals. Over the past 10 years internists have been forced take on a tremendous increase in the number of patients in an effort to maintain their income. They have even resorted to VIP type practices in which their patients pay the physician a yearly cash retainer for the right to be seen by their practice. With a few exceptions most other medical specialties have suffered the same fate. Medical malpractice lawsuits have nothing to do with this financial reality. As long as a doctor is willing to accept pennies on the dollar for their services they have no one to blame but themselves.
As a Chicago Personal Injury Attorney representing the injured victims of medical malpractice I can tell you first hand that we do not file frivolous lawsuits against doctors and hospitals. Beyond the fact that it is morally wrong to do so, the out of pocket cost to the attorney of prosecuting the action can range from $35,000. to more than $150,000. Our attorney fees are also contingent upon a successful recovery. In other words we must risk both out valuable time and money prosecuting a lawsuit which may not be won. Unless we are extremely selective of the cases we agree to accept it would not take long for us to be forced out of business. For that reason alone we must engage in due diligence to thoroughly investigate the merits of a potential lawsuit by consulting with experts in the field at issue before agreeing to accept the case. Medical malpractice insurance companies would like the public to believe that attorneys are filing lawsuits on behalf of anyone that walks in the door. They further buy radio and television airtime in an effort to get the public to panic that unless tort reform is passed every physician will leave the state. The fact is that there may be a shortage of physicians in downstate communities because the physicians do not want to live there! The migration from small rural communities to the "big cities" is not a new phenomena which somehow excludes physicians.
Doctors and hospitals have a right to be paid a fair price for their services but it is up to them to take on the health insurance companies and stop blaming medical malpractice attorneys for their financial woes.