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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Minnesota Proves Tort Reform Has No Place In Health Care Reform

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A man was awarded a $9.1 million verdict by a Minnesota jury stemming from a 2012 medical malpractice lawsuit. According to the claim, 51-year-old Joseph Lakoskey became ill with flu-like symptoms and sought treatment at North Memorial Medical Center. While being treated for dehydration, doctors determined Lakoskey was suffering from a perforated bowel and recommended surgery. His treatment for dehydration was stopped while he was started on anesthesia. According to his attorney, this left Lakoskey dangerously dehydrated, which ultimately led to a drop in his blood pressure and restricted blood flow to his spinal cord. As a result, Lakoskey sustained a spinal cord injury and paralysis. The amount of the judgment was among the largest ever awarded in a Minnesota malpractice suit.

While the award may sound significant, a man is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He is no longer able to work as an auto mechanic and he was forced to sell his successful business. Fortunately, Lasokey should obtain just compensation, not only because of the jury decision, but because Minnesota is one of the few states with limited tort reform statutes in the medical malpractice arena. Despite that fact, the state has had among the lowest medical malpractice costs in the US for over a decade, even lower payouts than in states like Virginia and North Carolina, where severe caps on non-economic damages are in place.

According to Minnesota Supreme Court statistics, medical malpractice lawsuit filings went down 45% from 1997 to 2008. In 2007 alone, out of 1.9 million cases filed, only 114 were medical malpractice suits. So, what does this tell us? Draconian tort reform does not lower health insurance rates. It does not lower health care costs. It does not reduce doctors’ premiums. Medical malpractice is actually a very small percentage of health care costs, partially because medical malpractice claims are pursued at a considerably less frequent rate than most people are led to believe. According to the Congressional Budget Office, malpractice costs amount to less than 2% of overall health care spending. CBO also found no difference in health care spending between states with or without limits on malpractice lawsuits.

Arbitrary caps are not the solution to our nation’s health care problems. In fact, they only come into play when a jury award exceeds the state cap. It doesn’t matter that the jury award was based on the evidence presented. Tort reform has never been about reducing “frivolous claims,” a favorite tag line of the medical and insurance industries. It has always been about limiting access to the courts and reducing awards in serious claims. Furthermore, it reduces the pressure on medical professionals to avoid careless medical errors.

The numbers don’t lie; the system is working in Minnesota! All victims deserve the right to tell their story; to exercise their right to trial by jury under the Seventh Amendment. It is time every state puts the decisions back in the hands of those who hear the facts, circumstances, and evidence of each case — the juries.

Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.