Medical Malpractice Reform
Viscusi, W. Kip
Concerns with medical malpractice liability costs have been a principal factor leading states to adopt a series of tort liability reforms. Medical malpractice premiums have been declining, creating less of a cost-based impetus for additional reforms. The most consistent empirical evidence indicating statistically significant effects of medical malpractice reforms has been for caps on non-economic damages. Damages caps reduce insurance losses and foster insurer profitability, consistent with the objective of caps. The impacts of caps are greatest for insurance companies that otherwise would have experienced the greatest losses in the state. However, caps may reduce payouts to plaintiffs, potentially reducing the funds available to cover economic losses and attorney fees. A more recent medical malpractice reform, apology laws, may have a counterproductive effect by encouraging apologies that have the unintended consequence of increasing litigation and damages payments. There is also evidence that medical malpractice reforms affect the delivery of medical care and the supply of physicians, but these effects are not as prominent as the impacts on payouts. Medical malpractice liability remains an inefficient way to transfer funds to injured patients. The share of litigation and defense expenses relative to costs remains high. The early offer reform proposal is one approach that is directed at reducing these costs.