Holding Down the Tort

The Associated Press trumpeted a New England Journal of Medicine study of malpractice lawsuits suggesting that 40 percent of them are “groundless.” Score one for tort reform and the AMA. The Reuters news agency, using the very same study, headlined “Frivolous malpractice lawsuits uncommon.” Score one for consumers and the American Trial Lawyers Association.

Well, which is it? As in most of scientific inquiry, it is both.

On one hand, 37 percent of those who sued could not prove medical error and thus were not paid off, and 54 percent of all awards went to pay the lawyers. Ten percent of plaintiffs got money they did not deserve.

On the other hand, the study concludes “portraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown,” citing three quarters of the outcomes as in line with what actually happened but 16 percent of plaintiffs deserving money but not getting any.

So are “frivolous” lawsuits a serious problem or not? Kind of depends on which party you belong to – Republican party, Democratic party, the party of the first part or the party of the second part.

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