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Tuesday, May 31st 2005

Economic Caps Deter Lawsuits

The debate over whether fewer lawsuits means cheaper malpractice premiums can continue. The debate over whether economic caps means fewer lawsuits now has more circumstantial evidence supporting the caps.

In Illinois:

Since legislative leaders announced a deal on caps last Wednesday, 58 medical malpractice lawsuits have been filed in Cook County — three to four times the number normally filed

I suppose there’s an argument that these are all legitimate med mal cases and that lawyers are being forced to file early, before their cases are fully prepared, if they hope to get the best compensation for their traumatized patients. It is of note however, that like Texas, upwards of 70% of Illinois med mal cases end without a trial and without a payment to the plaintiff. Here’s a discussion of med mal cases in an Illinois county at Illinois Civil Justice League.

This fact is often used by trial lawyers to show that malpractice suits must not be responsible for the rise in malpractice premiums, if so many end without payment. What I believe it shows is a ‘hit until it sticks’ strategy. Civil attorneys can afford to take on four cases (no matter the legitimacy of any of them), knowing that only one of them will stick and get paid, because such a settlement, or less likely trial award, will be significant. Caps however will force attorneys to choose their cases more carefully as a 25 to 15% success rate will not longer be financially viable.

True, their criteria for choosing may not be ideal. It will likely remain that cases will be chosen often on their dramatic possibilities than on merit but it seems, in my opinion, that a drop in the total volume of med mal cases in Illinois will be seen soon.

With a h/t to Kevin, M.D.