Legislator/physician Sidney Bondurant of Mississippi writes:
You posted a letter to the editor from a Midwestern doctor that was picked up by Donna Rovito. Evidently the ATLA folks sent out a sample letter commenting on the New England Journal of Medicine article that state trial lawyer association presidents signed and sent on to their local papers.
The Jackson Clarion-Ledger published one of these by the Miss. TL Assoc. president and the phrases used in it were almost the same as the one mentioned in the letter you reprinted. It appears that the local trial lawyers rely a good bit on the national office for their ideas for letters to the editor. I wrote a reply to them which was published in the Jackson Clarion Ledger Jun. 11.
The text of Dr. Bondurant's letter follows.
Precious T. Martin, president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association, asserted that an Associated Press report you printed was wrong ("Most malpractice claims have merit," May 22 letter).
The AP report said that according to a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, 40 percent of medical malpractice suits are non-meritorious. Mr. Martin stated, "In fact, the Harvard study found that most malpractice cases are meritorious, with 97 percent involving injury."
The AP reporter got it right the first time. The report found that 3 percent of the claims had absolutely no adverse outcome for the patient at all. Thirty-seven percent had an adverse outcome but there was no negligence or malpractice involved.
The paper says, on page 2029, "We found that only a small fraction of claims lacked documented injuries. However, approximately one third of claims were without merit in the sense that the alleged adverse outcomes were not attributable to error."
In Mr. Martin's world, adverse outcome, no matter if there was no malpractice, equals a meritorious claim. I do not think most people see things that way. Despite all the things that doctors and physicians do for people, there are still illnesses and injuries that get worse and cause suffering and death.
A better system than the one we have now would be to have an impartial screening panel to look at the case before going to court and make recommendations to the court as to the presence of actual malpractice. If the attorney and his client decided to proceed to court after the panel said there was no malpractice, then the plaintiff and the attorney should be responsible for the defendant's costs if the defendant won in court.
Such a system would keep most of the non-meritorious claims from ever going to court, cut down on the 54 percent overhead costs now built into the system, and speed compensation to those who were injured by true malpractice.
S.W. Bondurant, MD