Chapter 4.H--Malpractice Reform

 

There is a burgeoning literature on the recent medical malpractice insurance situation.


Whether apocryphal or not, it has been heard said that the burden of liability insurance, relative to income, is greater for New York City taxi drivers than for physicians.


Contrasting with the adamant position of most physicians in the present day calling for fundamental tort reform, it is interesting to observe physicians’ historical response to the first medical malpractice crisis, 150 years ago:

It is undoubtedly a very great grievance, that a physician or surgeon, after having conscientiously and to the best of his abilities devoted himself to the cure or relief of his patient, should be subjected to a prosecution for damages, if the result of the case be contrary to the patient’s wishes, or even his own hopes and predictions.  To the medical man this appears peculiarly hard . . .  [However], the medical profession could not with any justice claim exemption from those responsibilities which all the members of the community incur in every engagement mutually entered upon. Neither would it be possible for the law to provide for any other method of deciding cases of this nature than by the trial by jury; for though at first there appears to be an absurdity in twelve men, indifferently selected, deciding upon such questions as whether a particular fracture has been properly treated or not, the same objection may be made to a jury-trial of many other questions on subjects apart from usual pursuits, and requiring particular study for their understanding.  It appears but a natural demand to the medical man, that his treatment should be judged by his medical peers; but the patient might object that his claims might not have a fair hearing.  One having an action for land-damages against a railroad corporation would hardly be content to submit the decision to a jury of stockholders, although he might be very far from impeaching their integrity in any manner or degree.  Reflection will convince us that if these cases are unfortunately brought to the law for decision, it is only by a jury-trial that they can be decided.

S. Parkman & Calvin P. Fiske, Report on the Causes and Prevention of Suits for Mal-Practice 123-24 (1853) (Proceedings of the Massachusetts medical Society, Annual Meeting)

 

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