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Medical malpractice reform fails to meet goals; affects recovery

Throughout the country, numerous states have passed medical malpractice reform laws. Others have similar measures on the ballot in elections this year. The basis of the reform is often that medical malpractice lawsuits drive up medical costs in the form of unnecessary procedures performed as "defensive" tactics due to medical professionals' fear of being sued. But recent data indicates that limiting the recovery of those who are injured, or even die, as a result of medical malpractice has little, if any, effect on the costs of health care.

Texas was one of three states examined in a study where medical malpractice reform laws have been passed. While the new laws make it almost impossible for a victim to successfully sue for a medical mistake, the costs targeted by proponents of malpractice reform remained virtually the same. Those who have opposed the reform measures believe that the focus on saving money has actually created distractions from other areas where costs might actually be affected, while also giving victims the impression that there is no avenue for recovery.

After medical malpractice reform, Texas emergency room doctors can only be sued where there is evidence of "gross negligence," a legal term used to describe a situation where a doctor realizes the potential for serious injury from a treatment but chooses to pursue that course of treatment regardless. Prior to reform, most states used "ordinary negligence" as the standard, defined as a failure to use reasonable care in the treatment of a patient; a much lower threshold to meet.

While medical malpractice reform has made it more difficult for victims to recover the compensation they may be due, it is still up to the courts to decide what meets the standard of gross negligence.

Those who believe that they or a loved one have suffered injury due to an instance of medical malpractice should not be deterred from seeking legal advice from an attorney who understands the limits of malpractice reform.

Source: Reuters, "Malpractice laws that favor doctors fail to cut health costs: study," Gene Emery, Oct. 15, 2014

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