Sunday, February 05, 2006

Money or Justice II.....
From today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution:Malpractice award caps hamper some victims:
The repetition of pulling large sheets of chewing gum from an assembly line, cracking them in half and heaving them into a machine at the nearby Wrigley factory took its toll on Pat Wright.

After more than 20 years in the factory, she could hardly raise her left arm above her shoulder and couldn't bear to lie on it at night.

She finally went under the knife in 2003, but after the surgery she still felt pain. Early last year, another surgeon found the problem: about a half-dozen bright blue metal sutures that had mistakenly been left in her shoulder.

Ever since, Wright has sought an attorney to take her malpractice case, but those she's talked to have refused, citing a new state law that puts a $350,000 cap on jury awards for a malpractice victim's pain and suffering.

Because it can easily cost $100,000 to get a malpractice case to trial, the gamble simply isn't worth it for attorneys in Georgia anymore, and some of the same lawmakers who backed the cap are wondering if the law is too extreme.
Just after Wright learned about the sutures in her shoulder, state lawmakers in Atlanta were overhauling Georgia's medical malpractice laws.

Following the model of states including Texas and California, Georgia's Republican-led Legislature capped jury awards and made it harder for emergency room patients to win malpractice awards by placing a higher burden of proof on the plaintiffs.

Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the bill into law at an Atlanta hospital, surrounded by applauding doctors and administrators, saying it would improve access to health care throughout the state.

Doctors and hospitals contended the measure, dubbed "civil justice reform," would suppress rising malpractice insurance rates. They said doctors were leaving Georgia --- especially rural areas --- at an alarming pace and told lawmakers it would encourage doctors to stay.

Business lobbies, too, threw their weight behind the bill because it encourages early out-of-court settlements and penalizes parties who file frivolous lawsuits.

But trial lawyers argued that limiting damage awards puts an arbitrary price on a victim's life, and that the state's medical insurer fostered a false crisis by driving up premiums in a market with no competition.
Doesn't any damage award put "arbitrary price on a victim's life"? It seems that lawyers are interested only if the price is right.
The Medical Association of Georgia, one of the most vocal supporters of tort reform, said the law has transformed the state into a favorable environment for doctors. Anecdotal evidence shows fewer malpractice claims filed, and those that were have been settled more quickly, said David Cook, the group's executive director.

Cook added that steadying malpractice premiums have also stemmed the flow of doctors leaving the state.

Pat Wright said she's one of the unintended consequences of the law.

Since he metal sutures were found in her shoulder, she's gone to at least six attorneys. Each has turned her down, citing the new law.

The two-year statute of limitations on her case may have run out, but since the sutures were only found last year, lawyers have told her she's still got a case. She just can't find one to take it.

"I don't feel like I've been done right," she said. "Somebody should've taken my case."
So she is upset with both her physicians and her lawyers.
Others have had problems finding attorneys, too. Willie Davis' wife, Janie, died of a ruptured aorta minutes after leaving a hospital in Perry, a victim of what he says was a misdiagnosed heart condition. Since then, he's been told by six lawyers that they're unwilling to handle his case.

Atlanta attorney Joe Weeks said that two years ago he probably would have represented Davis, but not under the law as it is now.

Janie Davis was 68, a homemaker with no lost wages to recover, no medical bills to repay. "All we had is the value of her life. And the Georgia Legislature said the value of her life is $350,000," Weeks said.

Considering the cost of taking such a case to trial, Weeks said, it wouldn't be worth it.
Imagine the hue and cry if physicians and hospitals refused service to patients in their direst hour of need, because they couldn't make money off of the transaction. Physicians would be rightly vilified and scorned. But are attorney's held to the same standard? The bad guys aren't the lawyers in this article, but the physicians and legislators trying to solve a problem.

So again, is it money or justice?
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