Medical malpractice crisis requires major effort from many groups

On the heels of President Bush’s call for medical liability reform during a recent visit to Collinsville, Ill., Washington University hosted a conference on the same topic, “Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform: Finding Truth and Common Ground.” Medical and legal experts gathered to discuss the hard road that must be paved toward a solution for this growing national concern. The consensus of the conference seemed to be that cooperation is the key.

The conference was held Jan. 22 at the Washington University Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values. Read more about the outcomes of the meeting in the following St. Louis Post-Dispatch article.

Malpractice crisis is real, panel says

(Republished with permission from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This article originally ran on Sunday, January 23, 2005)

By Bill Smith
Of the Post-Dispatch

The medical malpractice crisis is real, and it will take the best efforts of doctors, lawyers, business professionals and lawmakers to fix the system.

That was the consensus of panelists at a daylong program Saturday at Washington University.

“There is a proliferation of media and plaintiffs’ lawyers pounding the pavement and saying there is no crisis,” said attorney Susan Ford Robertson. “We need to stop that discussion, acknowledge there is a problem and work for a realistic solution.” Robertson is president of the Missouri Organization of Defense Lawyers.

Said Dr. Norman S. Druck, a St. Louis surgeon, “We need tort reform, and we need a system that is fundamentally fair.” He urged a system “free of all the tricks and the games the lawyers play to induce you to settle” and called for a more level playing field to ensure the best outcomes for physicians and patients. Druck is the immediate past president of the St. Louis Metropolitan Medical Society.

Saturday’s program- “Medical Malpractice and Tort Reform: Finding Truth and Common Ground”- was presented by the university’s Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values. It came two weeks after President George W. Bush spoke in Collinsville, calling for federal medical liability reform by the end of the year.

Panel members included doctors, lawyers, businessmen and others with an interest in changing a system most agreed was forcing physicians to relocate and contributing to ever-increasing health insurance premiums.

Among the panelists were Kenneth Vuylsteke, an attorney who represents plaintiffs in medical malpractice litigation and serves as the medical-legal chair of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis. Vuylsteke said he feels confident that, by the end of the year, Missouri will see a law limiting so-called “non-economic” or “pain and suffering” court damages to $250,000. He also said it is likely the legislature will pass a “venue law” requiring that a medical malpractice case be heard in the jurisdiction where the action took place.

That would end the practice of plaintiff lawyers “shopping” for courts where the judges and residents are more sympathetic to their cases.

Vuylsteke also said that much of the problem must be laid squarely at the feet of some of his fellow attorneys.

“Lawyers who advertise for lawsuits against doctors are doing a disservice to the legal profession,” he said. The result of such advertising, he said, has resulted in a society that has been “whipped up against the medical community and against other people when it shouldn’t be.”

State Sen. Joan Bray, D-University City, another panelist, said that while tort reform is a priority for many lawyers, doctors and medical professionals, “the public is largely out of it.”

“The average person has no idea what tort means,” she said.

Reporter Bill Smith
Phone: 314-340-8125

Copyright 2004 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc.