"Tort reform"--read that as "shutting the courthouse door to malpractice victims"--again is rearing its ugly head as a means to reduce healthcare costs, most recently as a plank in the recent GOP healthcare proposals.
So it's refreshing to see the rationales for malpractice reforms authoritatively eviscerated, and even more refreshing to see that done by the heavily Republican Supreme Court of Florida.
By a 5-2 vote, the court last week overturned Florida's 2003 cap on malpractice damages, calling it discriminatory and therefore in violation of the state constitution. The court also took apart the claims of a malpractice insurance "crisis" that had driven the state legislature to impose the caps--the "alleged" and "purported" crisis, as the court majority accurately described the situation.
Members of Congress inclined to believe assertions that a malpractice "crisis" is driving up healthcare costs today should pay attention.
As Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones reports, the Florida case involved 20-year-old Michelle McCall, whose pregnancy and delivery of a healthy baby in 2005 went terribly wrong. Her family was awarded nearly $1 million in financial losses, and $2 million in nonfinancial losses, but under the state law the court was required to cut the latter sum to $1 million. That's because the law limits pain and suffering judgments in wrongful-death cases to $1 million, "regardless of the number of claimants."
Finally, the court cited evidence that malpractice caps have no appreciable effect on malpractice rates. As has been the case in California, they fatten insurer profits without achieving anything for either the doctors who pay them or the patients turned away at the courthouse door. That tells you whose interests really are served by the GOP's incessant nattering about "tort reform." It's not doctors, hospitals or consumers; it's insurers. in Florida, the Supreme Court is telling them they'll have to earn their money honestly.