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Illinois law permits a plaintiff to dismiss his or her case and refile it later. Typically, plaintiff, often because they are missing a witness or have some other fatal flaw in their case, dismisses the case without prejudice. The plaintiff then has a year to refile the case. This is especially useful if you are missing a witness who cannot be found, but the judge will not continue the case.

This came up in a medical malpractice case entitled Freeman vs. Crays. In Freeman the plaintiff had hired a primary care doctor to testify that the defendant in the case should have referred plaintiff’s decedent to a cardiologist. The plaintiff did not hire a cardiologist to testify about what might have happened after the plaintiff’s decedent got cardiologist. In other words, it was unclear whether a referral to a cardiologist would have likely saved plaintiff’s decedent. It was also unclear what the likelihood was.

Right before trial the defense asked for directed findings because the plaintiff could not prove causation. The trial court that without a cardiologist plaintiff could not win, so plaintiff dismissed and refiled.

HR 1215 advancing through the house, the subject of medical neglect to come up again. HR 15 would limit noneconomic damages to $250,000 on medical neglect claims throughout the country. This would affect states’ rights to decide their own law about medical liability by taking away the right to make a decision. The bill is call the Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017. Always remember, whenever you read the title of a bill, it does the opposite of what you might suggest. This bill protects medical providers from their bad actions.

With the radio show a couple of weeks ago we had some spirited debate about the issue. A younger medical intern had questions and we had a really good discussion about the issues. After that, an older doctor called up to was very pro-tort reform. He argued that there is too much defensive medicine and so the government should cap damages in medical neglect suits. He argued that there is some evidence that 85 billion could be saved by capping defensive medicine, as if capping damages will suddenly get rid of all defensive medicine.  Here is a link to the podcast.

There are a couple of things I would say in response to the older gentleman. Concerning defensive medicine, the New England Journal of Medicine says caps cause little effect on defensive medicine.   He also argued that many people are sued when they should not be. Presumably his friends have told him that they had been sued in cases that lack merit. I have no doubt many doctors say such things regularly. Howver, Illinois does have a certificate of merit for medical neglect claims which requires a doctor to certify that there is malpractice before the suit can proceed.

Medical error is now the third leading cause of death in the United States. The first two are heart disease and cancer. This, according to a British Medical Journal analysis by Martin Makary and Michael Daniel, professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

This article follows on several studies, including the landmark Institute of Medicine “To Err Is Human.” In To Err Is Human The Institute of Medicine, the branch of the government that studies medical issues, found that 98,000 people were dying from medical errors in the United States. This put the number of deaths at higher than work injuries and car wrecks combined.

According to Makary and Daneil, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to categorize medical errors as a cause of death. The article criticizes the medical community for using an international classification of disease (ICD) system as the primary indicator of death. Causes of death not associated with an ICD code, such as human error, are not captured in the system. Accordingly, there is no real way to track how many people die of medical errors on a yearly basis in the United States without extensive research, like they did.

As an attorney who handles medical negligence, workers compensation and other injury claims I see and talk to numerous people who have bad surgical results. Quite frankly, many of them are not necessarily the doctors’ fault. On the other hand, there are clearly too many medical complications. This is been studied many times. The studies conclude that patients who go to the hospital take a risk in going there.

To a large extent, the outcome of a given procedure is not in the hands of the patient. It is very difficult for patients to know what physician is good at any given procedure or what medical institution does a decent job of providing medical care.

Fortunately, ProPublica has done a large study of medical providers and their complication rates. The Surgeon Scorecard is here.  This database studies surgeons throughout the United States and calculates death and complication rates for various types of surgeries. My video discussing this database is here.

Tort reform advocates frequently claim physician supply is a tort reform issue. Proponents claim that unless there is reform physicians will flee the state. As an Illinois injury claim lawyer who accepts medical malpractice claims I believe this is relevant to Illinois law because lawmakers here have tried to cap damages in Illinois medical malpractice claims three times. The Illinois Supreme Court has held these caps unconstitutional each time.

In a recent article entitled “Does Tort Reform Affect Physicians Supply – Evidence from Texas“, David Hymen, Charles Silver and Bernard Black examine the question. David Hymen is from University of Illinois, School of Medicine and Law. Charles Silver is from the University of Texas, School of Law.

The authors chose Texas because it adopted fairly strict reforms in 2003. Texas capped non-economic damages against physicians to $250,000.00 with no adjustment for inflation. There is also a cap of $250,000.00 applies to each hospital with a total cap of $500,000.00 for non-economic damages. Lawsuits dropped significantly. Payouts dropped 70%. The authors felt that any physician increase or reduction should be apparent by now.

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