Frivolous lawsuits are bad for everyone. This is true regardless of the industry. Yet shameless opportunists continue to seek an unwarranted payday for minor offenses and less. Right now, Apple is being sued by whatever dregs are left of Real Networks over the iPod/iTunes DRM required by the music industry at the time. It was revealed that after dragging this through the courts for ten years, the named plaintiffs did not own eligible iPods for consideration. Despite having no eligible plaintiffs, the case is still going forward.
While all frivolous lawsuits are bad, frivolous medical lawsuits are exponentially worse. They are not only inconvenient and costly for doctors and insurance companies, they are potentially deadly to the people deprived of health care as a result. To address this, the Los Angeles-based regional healthcare law firm run by Nelson Hardiman recently announced an alliance with Washington D.C.-based Epstein Becker Green:
Harry Nelson, managing partner and co-founder of Nelson Hardiman (formerly Fenton Nelson, LLP), said the firm made the decision to form an alliance with a national law firm in order to keep pace with the number and complexity of cases related to Medicare contracts, reimbursement and regulatory compliance.
Because healthcare attorneys can no longer keep up with the increasing workload, the situation will only get worse. There is a real human cost that cannot be ignored:
Healthcare Gets Even More Expensive
Ever wonder why it costs you $70 to talk to your doctor for five minutes? You are not paying for that time. You are paying for his malpractice insurance. CBSnews.com reports that an OBGYN who delivered 4,000 babies in 21 years without being sued was paying $84,000 a year for medical malpractice insurance in 2004. Imagine the cost to doctors who have been victimized by frivolous lawsuits.
CNBC reports that medical bills are the biggest cause of U.S. bankruptcies:
Bankruptcies resulting from unpaid medical bills will affect nearly 2 million people this year—making health care the No. 1 cause of such filings, and outpacing bankruptcies due to credit-card bills or unpaid mortgages, according to new data. And even having health insurance doesn’t buffer consumers against financial hardship.
This means that the cost of decent healthcare is already out of reach for people without insurance. A straight line can be drawn between their untimely illnesses and deaths, and frivolous lawsuits presented without conscience, by those seeking to game the system for a quick and easy payday.
Doctors will be Less Likely to Try New Things
While it is important that doctors color within the lines, unlike the one played on the hit show, “House M.D.”, it is equally necessary for doctors to know when to be creative and think outside the box. There is a reason it is called “practicing” medicine. It is as much of an art as it is a science. Creative and skillful practitioners expand and redefine the boundaries.
If being absolutely safe was truly the goal, doctors could never prescribe medicine. Any medicine that has effects has side effects. Sciencebasedmedicine.org profiled Melvin H. Kirschner, M.D. who has written a book called, “All Medicines are Poison! The title was inspired by a lecture he experienced early in life where the professor told the class,
“I am here to teach you how to poison people.” After a pause, he added, “without killing them, of course.”
We are learning to tame poison to cure disease and extend life. Sometimes, there will be unintended consequences and unforeseen interactions. But because of these breakthroughs, we live in a world where diabetes and cancer and not automatic death sentences as they were just a couple of decades ago. Frivolous lawsuits slow the discovery process down for everyone.
Finally, frivolous lawsuits clog the courts time and attention so that legitimate cases cannot be heard. Doctors are human. Like all humans, they sometimes make mistakes. Hospitals have to make a profit. And pharmaceutical companies have their own agenda that is not always in alignment with yours. Real medical malpractice happens and those cases need to be heard. That will only happen with regularity when the frivolous lawsuits that clog the dockets are a thing of the past. With every frivolous lawsuit, we all lose.