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Medical Malpractice Reforms and Patient Safety

Casey Woodruff

undefinedIs there a direct correlation between medical malpractice reforms and patient safety at Illinois hospitals? That’s one of the questions posed by researchers at Northwestern University’s Department of Economics and Kellogg School of Management. According to a recent working paper, the increase in liability risk for medical malpractice correlates with a rise in patient care quality. In other words, when injured patients aren’t constrained by damage caps in medical malpractice cases, fewer medical negligence cases tend to occur.

For a number of years, Illinois had a cap on certain medical malpractice damages. Five years ago, the Illinois Supreme Court invalidated that cap. Now, without such a cap, should patients expect to be at a lower risk of personal injury when they enter the hospital for a routine procedure?

Non-Economic Damage Caps and Illinois Medical Negligence Claims

In order to understand the potential link between medical malpractice reform and patient safety, it’s important to have a grasp on the kinds of damages for which a patient can be eligible when she files a medical malpractice lawsuit. Most importantly, you’ll need to understand some details about non-economic damages and the “caps” that can be imposed on them.

Compensatory damages come in two different forms: economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages are easy to calculate because they’re objective losses, such as the cost of a hospital bill, physical rehabilitation, and lost earnings. Non-economic damages, however, are not objective. Instead, these are a type of compensatory damages that compensate victims for losses that don’t have a precise dollar figure, such as pain and suffering or disfigurement.

Illinois previously had a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, as we mentioned, allowing plaintiffs to recover only up to a specific amount. Can we see a discernable difference between the rate of patient injuries in the years in which a damage cap existed and the number of injuries after the damage cap was lifted?

Patient Safety Indicators and Physician Liability

The Northwestern University researchers noted that previous studies of the link between damage caps and patient safety have “yielded mixed results.” Given the lack of clarity on this connection, the researchers looked to a much larger sample of patients in order to prove the “classic tort law deterrence theory, in which med mal liability spurs healthcare providers to attend to care quality.”

They looked at cases from a number of states, including Illinois. The researchers compared data from years in which no damage caps existed to years in which states had non-economic damage caps. By looking at patient safety indicators, the researchers concluded that “reduced risk of med mal litigation, due to state adoption of damage caps, leads to higher rates of preventable adverse patient safety events in hospitals.”

According to the working paper, their results were consistent across data from Illinois, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas. Given these findings, we should expect to see a correlation between the current lack of non-economic damage caps in Illinois and the number of patient injuries in hospitals. While those numbers will be difficult to determine in the very near future, the findings do suggest that patient safety may be improving. Nonetheless, accidents can happen in even the most routine hospital situations. If you were injured by a healthcare provider’s negligence, you should seek assistance from a medical malpractice lawyer in the Chicago area as soon as possible.

Contact a Naperville Medical Malpractice Lawyer

Filing a medical malpractice claim can be complicated, and it’s essential to speak with an experienced Naperville medical malpractice attorney before moving forward with your case. An advocate at Woodruff Johnson & Evans can speak with you today.

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