Medical malpractice and tort law
Lloyd, Donald J.
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For more than three decades, a debate has raged over the ability of the current civil justice system to properly evaluate complex product liability and medical malpractice cases. Critics of the tort system claim that the system is flawed because adjudication of disputes is a chaotic and inequitable process that results in excessively punitive or disproportionately gratuitous outcomes for winners and losers. The medical profession has been the primary driver of the reform movement because the frequency and severity of medical malpractice cases and professional liability insurance premiums have escalated substantially since the mid 1970s, resulting in an ongoing cycle of ‘crises’ among physicians and other medical professionals. This analysis examined the foundations of tort law, negligence, and medical malpractice in the United States, and compared key elements of a major health system replacement alternative with the present tort process in achieving the primary objectives of deterrence of negligent behavior, attainment of distributional equity, achievement of economic efficiency, and realization of judicial proficiency. The focus of the study was on jurisprudential proficiency and the differences in perceptions by medically trained ‘jurists’, legally trained ‘jurists’, and untrained lay ‘jurors’ to the events portrayed in a three hour mock medical malpractice trial. Eight hypotheses were examined, and perception differences between medical students, law students and undergraduate students were identified. However, while the results of seven of the eight hypotheses were in the expected direction, only two proved to be statistically significant. Nonetheless, the goal of the study was to build on the existing knowledge base concerning the efficacy of the current tort system as it relates to medical malpractice litigation, and suggest a viable reform alternative. Study results suggest that specialized Health Courts that replace juries with judicial panels with backgrounds in law and medicine could be a viable alternative for adjudicating medical malpractice cases. While certainly not definitive, study results encourage more research on the issue, including the implementation of state demonstration projects which can quell the tort reform debate.