Ohio’s tort reform has curbed soaring malpractice costs
Tort reform signed into law in Ohio nine years ago has significantly reduced medical-malpractice suits and associated costs. This was the hoped-for result when Gov. Bob Taft signed Senate Bill 281; the law capped “pain and suffering” damages at $500,000 per occurrence.
The Ohio Department of Insurance reports that closed malpractice claims decreased by 41 percent between 2005 and 2010, with more than three-quarters of those closed claims resulting in no payment. Total payments dropped to $175.1 million in 2010, a reduction of more than $100 million from 2005.
Some attorneys may see this as making cases not worth taking on, since there’s no hope of a very large payout. But their argument that the law is making it harder for those with legitimate claims to file suit is not compelling, since there still are several thousand claims per year and there is no penalty for simply filing a claim.
The Ohio State Medical Association would like to see the number of claims continue to drop; Tim Maglione of OSMA says there are “a lot of lawsuits still today being filed that should never be commenced.”
Meanwhile, the rates that Ohio doctors pay for medical malpractice insurance have dropped by more than 26 percent. Before the passage of the law, physicians argued that their insurance costs were leading them to consider closing shop or moving out of state.
About half the states in America now have some sort of cap on noneconomic damages, according to the American Medical Association. The laws have come as a result of staggering statistics: The AMA says that 61 percent of physicians and 90 percent of surgeons age 55 and older have been sued at some point during their careers. Slightly more than half of obstetricians/gynecologists under the age of 40 have been sued.
Unnecessary lawsuits and skyrocketing litigation and insurance costs end up hurting everyone. No one denies that some people have legitimate claims and, to paraphrase Maglione, no one is closing the courthouse door to these plaintiffs. But the results in just these few years seem to prove that there is a clear, swift benefit to tort reform.