Limits in MICRA tort reform felt mostly by lawyers -- not patients

LETTER — Posted Jan. 17, 2005

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I want to thank AMNews Senior Reporter Tanya Albert for the very well-written article "MICRAscope"(Article, Nov. 8, 2004). The recently published RAND report on California's experience with tort reform (MICRA) does have "something for everyone" on all sides of this issue.

One observation from my study of the RAND report: If you omit the jury verdicts in the seven highest awards as "outlier" cases (that is, omit the top 3% of the cases, ranging from $4.7 million to $31.3 million), the conclusions of the study would change significantly. Rather than characterizing MICRA as penalizing "seniors, stay-at-home moms and children," the data clearly point out that the major savings occur in the area of attorney fees.

The "little secret" of MICRA is not that it forces a significant limit on the awards of deserving, injured patients, but rather that it limits the amount of money received by the law firms representing those patients. Based on my calculations, the average net capped award received by 97% of the patients reported was reduced by only 7.5%, and in most cases even less than that. Over 80% of the savings of those cases occurred as a result of fee limits.

In simple terms: The party who suffers most under MICRA is the plaintiff's attorney, not the plaintiff.

MICRA's limits on unreasonable awards made by "juries gone wild" hurt the attorneys who encourage them, not the patients and families who need help.

Curtis E. Harris, MD, Ada, Okla.

Editor's note: Dr. Harris is also a lawyer and teaches a course on law and medicine at Oklahoma City University School of Law.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2005/01/17/edlt0117.htm.

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