January 12, 2003
A little taste of tort reform

This Chron editorial raises some interesting points about the tort reform - namely, medical malpractice damage award caps - which is being proposed by Governor Goodhair:

[A] look at the data does not confirm the charge that the wave of malpractice lawsuits is mostly frivolous and the damages unwarranted. On the contrary, the evidence strongly suggests that the medical malpractice insurance crisis is at least partly due to actual malpractice and the failure of the medical profession to adequately supervise its members.

Just under 35,000 licensed physicians practice in Texas. Formal complaints against Texas doctors have nearly doubled since 1996, and so has the number of investigations opened by the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners.

In the first three months of 2002, the board began 1,725 investigations, discarding thousands of other complaints. Yet during the same time period, the board took only 187 disciplinary actions against doctors, from revoking licenses to assessing modest fines.

At its December meeting, the state board revoked or required the surrender of 10 doctors' licenses, but allowed three of the doctors to continue to practice on probation. It suspended 15 doctors, but allowed nine of them to keep treating patients. It restricted 13 doctors, reprimanded four and fined 15.

The lack of will by professional organizations such as the AMA (and, in fairness, the American Bar Association as well) to mete out real discipline to its truly bad apples is nothing new. One does wonder why the good apples, who are the ones that are really getting screwed, don't make a bigger stink about it.

By the way, there have been a total of about 30 lawsuits since 1997 resulting from the HMO reform law that was passed over Dubya's objections. The "flood" of lawsuits that the hysterics cried about has been a trickle.

The Chron goes on:

The 14th Court of Appeals, which sits in Houston, just issued an opinion guaranteed to make matters worse. In overturning multimillion-dollar damages against a hospital awarded to a brain-damaged patient, the court ruled that hospitals are not liable for botched operations just because they know a doctor is taking drugs and allow him to keep operating.

In order for hospitals to be liable for damages, the court ruled, patients must prove that hospital officials actually wished them to be harmed. If not overturned by the Texas Supreme Court or the Legislature, this ruling is practically an invitation to lax supervision leading to malpractice.

Now that's really awful. I wish I could find out more about this - I struck out on Google. Anyone have some more information about this case?

And a parting shot:

When Rep. Tom Craddick visited the Chronicle's Editorial Board last month, the presumptive speaker of the Texas House was asked if the Legislature might ease the malpractice emergency by trying to get bad doctors out of the medical corps.

The Midland Republican said, "You can't legislate morality." This no doubt will come as a surprise to some of Craddick's supporters in the House, who hope to use the Republican Party's ascendancy to advance their moral agenda.

Yes, let's do keep this in mind during the predictable outcry that will follow when the Supremes get around to ruling on the constitutionality of Texas's sodomy law. The Lege is perfectly happy to legislate morality when it suits its purposes.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 12, 2003 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack