The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would victimize medical malpractice victims and protect the health care providers who injured them. If there is a silver lining in all this, it might be that H.R. 1215 passed by the slimmest of margins. But I am not comforted by this. Not until the U.S. Senate slaps some sense into the U.S. House.
I could go on all day about the frequency with which people are injured by medical malpractice. I could go on all day about the numerous victims who cannot find a lawyer to take their case because the ultimate recovery will barely cover litigation costs.
Please don’t delude yourself into believing there are doctors lining up to gratuitously provide their expert services to these victims. Expert fees are the largest cost of medical malpractice cases, usually driving the total costs of these cases over $125,000 and, in some cases, as high as $250,000.
Oh, and please don’t delude yourself into believing doctors who commit medical malpractice, or their liability insurers, are rushing to settle cases before costs pile up. I have a case with clear negligence that is now in its third year of litigation because of the scorched-earth defense.
Let’s discuss a typical case that occurs all across the United States and see the impact of H.R. 1215.
A 60-year-old retired husband, and father of two, goes into the hospital for a routine thyroid surgery. The surgery goes well, but a blood vessel is mistakenly cut and left open. Postoperatively, the husband’s neck is swelling. Blood is collecting in the limited space available in the neck. His doctors and nurses do not intervene as he suffocates from the collection of blood crushing his windpipe. His family watches helplessly as he suffocates to death.
Since the husband was retired, there is no lost income. Since he died, there are no future medical bills. So, the family is limited to grief and suffering from the loss of their loved one. H.R. 1215 would limit the amount the wife and her two kids can recover to $250,000, regardless of how many doctors and nurses were negligent, regardless of the egregiousness of their conduct.
H.R. 1215 would limit the attorneys’ fees to around $75,000 (which ends up being around $150/hr–about half of what the defense lawyers are paid!). Therefore, even if the litigation costs are kept low, at $100,000, the wife and kids would collect $75,000.
Let that settle in.
The wife loses her husband of 30+ years, the two kids lost their father, and collectively the three of them have to split $75,000.
Does that sound fair?