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Doctors for public health and safety, against tort reform

Doctors are generally thought to be in favor of tort reform, but for many MD's this is a knee-jerk reaction to medical malpractice lawsuits. In truth, medical errors are believed to cause up to 98,000 deaths annually, according to a 2003 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That puts medical errors in the top ten causes of death in the U.S.

Around 1% of all hospital patients become victims of malpractice, and 5% of physicians are responsible for half of the medmal cases filed in this country. Just 3% of malpractice victims actually file claims, and doctors and hospitals avoid paying for 80% of the harm they cause to malpractice victims. See for more statistics.The statistics prove that the notion that malpractice claims are out of control is an advertising gimmick that permits malpractice insurers to price-gouge doctors.

Some doctors see through the insurance industry propaganda. The current and former Editors of the New England Journal of Medicine ("NEJM"), which is the oldest continuously published medical journal in the world, filed a "friends of the Court" brief in a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case. This case was against a pharmaceutical company for releasing a dangerous drug on the market, despite having knowledge that the drug had dangerous side effects. The drug company withheld information from the Food & Drug Administration about these dangerous side effects. The plaintiff was a woman who was administered the company's drug and who had her arm amputated as a result. A jury awarded the plaintiff $7.4 million dollars in damages.

The Editors of the NEJM, who are highly educated doctors, reviewed several cases in which drug companies "equated increased warnings with a loss of sales, [giving them] an incentive to delay warnings as long as possible... [C]ertain pharmaceutical companies have already proven themsleves unwilling to prioritize safety over profits, even when faced with the threat of civil liability." The Editors argued that the jury's verdict should stand because a robust tort system is required to effectively monitor drug companies and to improve the lives of injured patients and their families. The Editors also believed that elimination of tort claims would "threaten this nation's public heath."

Well-educated and highly-respected doctors who have studied tort reform believe that a strong tort system is needed to protect patients. That should speak far more loudly than propaganda designed to pad the profits of drug manufacturers and insurance companies.