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CO Experience Informs Medical Malpractice Debate

September 22, 2009

DENVER - It's become a hot topic in the health care debate: some doctors say limiting medical malpractice judgments could reduce unnecessary procedures and cut costs. But in Colorado, which already has some of the strictest caps on malpractice awards, some people say the result has actually been a loss of justice for many victims of medical negligence.

Dan Lipman, a Denver medical malpractice attorney who also sits on the board of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, explains what happens.

"What these caps do, is they essentially tell people that don't make a lot of money: 'You can be malpracticed on, and we're going to make it essentially impossible for anybody to take your case.'"

Lipman says that even though Colorado's current system is bad, he thinks some of the alternatives being proposed, including a special system for malpractice cases mentioned by President Obama, would be much worse. Supporters of such a system say it would speed up the regular court system and allow doctors to be judged by other experienced medical professionals. Lipman says however that it takes away the constitutional rights to a jury trial and due process.

He says some of the tort reform proposals being floated now, including special malpractice panels or courts, should be of particular concern to budget and fiscal hawks.

"It would create a new bureaucracy with governmental oversight; it would need to be funded by the government; it would be a fiscal disaster."

Lipman says that under Colorado's current system, someone injured in a car accident caused by the negligence of a trucker receives more from a court to deal with quality-of-life changes than someone injured just as badly in a case of medical negligence.

"But to the poor guy who is injured, he has the same amount of damages, he should be able to get the same."

Lipman says that, in many cases, victims of medical negligence never walk, talk or live life like they did before. The group Consumers Union estimates preventable medical errors now account for more than 100,000 deaths each year.

Eric Mack, Public News Service - CO