Baylor > Lariat Archives > News

Malpractice cap good protection for doctors

March 21, 2003

Staff editorial

Doctors will be able to practice without fear if a bill approved by the House of Representatives on March 13 makes it through the Senate.

The House voted last week to limit jury awards in malpractice suits to $250,000 for pain and suffering caused by medical errors or negligence. The issue is murky at best. Many worry that doctors will get away with mistakes that cost patients their lives and that lawyers will be unwilling to put the necessary effort into winning malpractice suits that could win them no more than a percentage of $250,000. In reality though, the move is necessary to ensure the patients get needed medical attention.

As malpractice awards have gone up, doctors have been forced to withhold treatments, close medical centers and avoid high-risk specialties to lower their liability, according to a story by The Associated Press. Some doctors in New Jersey last month withheld routine treatments for several days in a form of protest against increased insurance rates. Last year, a high-level trauma center in Las Vegas was closed after doctors no longer could afford their malpractice insurance. And when high-risk treatments are necessary, patients need doctors who can afford to take a chance in treating them. So, while negligent doctors often deserve to be punished, it can't be at the expense of medical care by the rest of doctors for the rest of patients.

But that doesn't change the fact that reprimands of some sort are essential for patients' protection. In exchange for the House's concession, the profession needs to take up the slack and police itself. The state medical licensing boards need to have their own strict penalties for negligence and medical mistakes to ensure that unsafe doctors are not allowed to injure or kill patients who would have greatly reduced channels of recourse.