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Might there be too little med-mal liability?

The key issue, of course, is whether perfection (the absence of errors) is the definition of non-negligent behavior. If it is not (as I believe), then there should be liability only if a non-customary type or number of errors is committed. To admit this overtly, of course, is to admit that doctors are as fallible as other humans. Studies like this one will be trotted out en masse by the John Edwardses of this world, and it is to be hoped that courageous judges will see that they are irrelevant to a med-mal case.

A new study estimates that the number of patients who died from medical errors is more than double the findings in a 1999 report that itself sparked major concern.

The study by Health Grades Inc., a consulting firm in Colorado, used data from Medicare patients over age 65. The data was then adjusted to compensate for age. Researchers found that:

O Medical errors contributed to almost 600,000 patient deaths over the past three years, or about 195,000 per year.

O An earlier Institute of Medicine report estimated that 44,000 to 98,000 preventable deaths occurred each year due to medical errors.

O The costs associated with treating Medicare patients who were victims of medical errors is about $2.9 billion a year.

The majority of patients who died in the Health Grades study were taken from a medical coding called "failure to rescue," which refers to errors in diagnosing or treating illness that occurs after an operation. Other major causes of preventable errors include bed sores that lead to infection, postoperative infection, and postoperative respiratory failure.

If hospital errors were reported by the Centers for Disease Control as a cause of death, they would rank sixth, ahead of diabetes, influenza, pneumonia and Alzheimer's disease, according to researchers.

Source: Paul Davies, "Fatal Medical Errors Said to Be More Widespread," Wall Street Journal, July 27, 2004.

For the WSJ text (subscription required): click here .

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.