An editorial in today’s Star Ledger alleges, with no supporting empirical data, that New Jersey and New York lead the nation in relative monetary tort losses due to malpractice lawsuits and, as a result of “a fear of medical malpractice lawsuits, defensive medicine — that is, unnecessary tests and procedures to avoid tort lawsuits for “negligence” — is widespread in New York and New Jersey.
The facts do not bear out the allegation. According to a study conducted by the Harvard Medical Practice Study Group and extrapolated nationally, 80,000 Americans die in hospitals every year from the negligence of their health care providers and, astoundingly, more than 300,000 Americans are injured due to medical negligence. Medical negligence is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, behind only cigarette and alcohol related deaths. Notwithstanding that dramatic fact, only about 2% of those injured by physicians’ negligence ever seek compensation through the legal process. In New Jersey, malpractice cases constitute only 1.13% of all civil cases filed. And, in a 15-year review conducted by the now defunct Medical Interinsurance Exchange, a doctor-owned insurance company which insured approximately 70% of the doctors in this state, it was reported that jury awards in malpractice cases have been fair and that unjustified payments were rare.
If the Star Ledger focused its editorials on the need to eliminate preventable medical errors, rather than bashing the tort system, patients would likely benefit from better medical care and treatment and doctors would benefit from a commensurate reduction in otherwise meritorious claims.