How To Make Doctors Disappear
May 1, 2002
Juries in Mississippi are notorious for their outlandish awards to plaintiffs in tort cases -- with doctors especially vulnerable in malpractice cases. Juries in that state recently awarded $3.5 million for problems related to a foot amputation, $5 million against a surgeon who lost a patient to pneumonia, and $12 million for a birth-related brain injury. In the first three months of this year alone, juries there awarded more than $23 million to plaintiffs.
Mississippi is expected to lose 400 doctors this year. There used to be 14 companies underwriting liability insurance in the state. Now only one is willing to take on new policies.
Rocketing jury awards are driving medical insurance costs out of sight not only in Mississippi, but also throughout the U.S. For instance, in South Texas, a jury awarded $43 million to a woman who claimed a diabetes drug damaged her liver.
Doctors are retiring early or moving to "safer" states. Insurance companies are responding by getting out of the medical malpractice business.
- In December, the St. Paul Companies announced it was doing just that after years of mounting losses.
- St Paul, the nation's second-largest malpractice insurer, had underwriting losses of $940 million last year alone.
- It insures 42,000 doctors and thousands of hospitals and clinics nationwide.
- An executive of the company explains that the losses "were driven mainly by a steadily deteriorating tort environment, with no real reform in sight."
People who sit on juries in malpractice cases might want to remember the situation next time they try to find a doctor, tort-reform advocates say.
Source: Editorial, "Lawyers vs. Patients," Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2002.
For WSJ text
Browse more articles on Government Issues