NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 21, 2004

The true costs of medical malpractice suits and large jury awards are coming to light in many states around the country. For example, in John Edwards' home state of South Carolina, doctors -- particularly obstetricians -- are leaving the medical field in droves as the threat of lawsuits and high insurance premiums drive them out of business.

High insurance premiums mean that doctors leave medicine to avoid punitive damages while hospitals reduce their liability by limiting certain medical procedures. Consequently:

  • Insurance premiums for obstetricians have more than tripled in four years to an average of $37,600.
  • Neurosurgeons at one medical center in South Carolina no longer accept trauma calls because they fear getting slapped with large punitive damages by juries.
  • One county has reduced its neurosurgery coverage to 10 days a month.

One prominent Charleston physician, Chris Hawk, incited controversy when he proposed recently that doctors should not treat trial lawyers who bring suits against doctors. He says that such a practice can be ethical as long as no emergency care is denied and a doctor gives the patient a 30-day notice of termination.

Soaring malpractice insurance premiums and outrageous jury awards are reducing the availability of much-needed health specialists, especially in rural areas that already lack health care practitioners, say observers.

Source: Suzanne Fields, "The high cost of malpractice," Washington Times, July 19, 2004.


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