Workers comp-style system should replace current medical tort system

LETTER — Posted March 27, 2006

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Regarding "Tort reform: The truth of the matter" (Editorial, Feb. 20):

There is a basic issue that the AMA needs to address before physicians will get real tort relief. The reason why we cannot get the public and their representatives in Congress to support tighter tort reform is because nobody is offering an alternative venue to civil litigation.

Most physicians will candidly admit that accidents and injuries occur to patients in the course of all kinds of medical care.

In the current American legal culture, the only way that an injured person can be compensated is to contact a lawyer and file a lawsuit.

Lawyers will say that the current tort reform proposals will only reduce the injured client access to the court system because low-value cases are not financially feasible to prosecute.

I believe they are absolutely correct. What trial lawyers don't want to see is an alternative way to settle medical malpractice claims, because to win a large case is the big payoff to their firms. Malpractice insurers don't want tort reform to change their ability to make profits from physicians who fear medical malpractice claims and loathe lawyers.

There is a way to settle malpractice claims that no one is talking about and makes a lot of sense. We need to have a compensation system similar to disability or workers compensation that will hear these cases before an administrative law judge who is experienced in medical issues. This would take the emotional pleas before a jury away from the decision process and would lead to more medically correct determinations of whether there was fault or malpractice and how much patients should be compensated.

I believe the reason physicians and the AMA don't get widespread public support for tighter tort reform in the present system is because the voting public can see only disadvantages for the patient and advantages to the doctor to avoid any litigation.

If we want fairness to doctors as well as patients, we need to accept responsibility and accountability for our mistakes.

William V. Choisser, MD, Orange Park, Fla.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2006/03/27/edlt0327.htm.

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