Medical malpractice cases are already common in the United States, but they are also on the rise. This results in a tough balancing act for physicians, patients, attorneys, and legislators. Patients want the highest standard of care, physicians don’t want to lose a practice by making a mistake, attorneys want to make a buck while providing a vigorous defense for their clients, and legislators want to do what’s best for their constituents while increasing the chances of reelection. In the COVID-19 era, this makes the job that much harder.
There are a number of common reform proposals centered around medical malpractice laws.
Probably the most common is whether or not the statute of limitations should be expanded, and how much. Right now, patients in most states only have so long to bring about a lawsuit. Depending on where they live and what kind of illness they were living with, the statute of limitations could run dry before the patient even knows something went wrong.
Healthcare providers are all about limiting damages and a plaintiff’s attorney’s fees — because when you do that, you reduce the incentive for both plaintiff and attorney to sue a healthcare provider for malpractice.
Some even propose to move all medical malpractice cases to a specialized court system wherein the judge would be trained in medicine. Considering the time it takes to obtain degrees in law and medicine — and the fact that the plaintiff would more than likely no longer have the right to a jury trial — most legislators don’t see a feasible path to implementing new laws.
There are strong arguments on both sides. For example, healthcare providers that are afraid of constant litigation would be more prone to provide unproductive care or referring patients to other healthcare providers when diagnosis proves difficult. But lawsuits also deter unsafe medical practices while providing compensation to those who were injured by negligent practices.