President Bush’s visit to Madison Wisconsin

by John P. Scanlon

President Bush's recent visit to Madison County made one position abundantly clear. The malpractice insurance premiums for doctors are too high. However, the Administration's solution, in trading the rights of the most seriously injured in an attempt to reduce premiums, is not the answer. Injuries to individuals resulting from medical negligence are not frivolous when they involve brain damage, paralysis and wrongful amputations. The solution lies primarily with the regulation of the insurance industry. Insurance companies must be willing to open their books to justify the large increases which have taken place recently. This is currently not the case.

ALL SIDES ARE AGAINST FRIVOLOUS LAWSUITS

Despite arguments to the contrary, the proposed $250,000.00 cap on non-economic damages (pain and suffering, disability and disfigurement) as endorsed by the Administration does not relate to frivolous lawsuits. If the lawsuit is frivolous because the amount at stake is so small, it would never reach the $250,000.00 cap. If the lawsuit is frivolous because there is no chance of recovery, it also will never reach the cap. Simply, if more than $250,000.00 is at stake, it is not a frivolous lawsuit. The claims affected by such a cap would be the ones which involve the most devastating injuries as a result of medical negligence. A cap would also have a particularly devastating effect on the claims of women, children and the elderly, because many in this group may not be employed at the time of the injury and have little economic damage. A cap on non-economic damage (possibly the only damages they have) might make pursuing the claim economically not feasible.

LIMITING PATIENTS' RIGHTS WILL ONLY BENEFIT INSURANCE COMPANIES

No solution will ever be found to the increasing costs of medical insurance premiums if the focus is just to blame trial lawyers and take away the rights of the most seriously injured as a result of medical negligence. The primary focus must be on the insurance companies. Unfortunately, the insurance industry has not committed to reducing premiums if caps are imposed on claims. So, in paying less in claims, and not reducing malpractice premiums, the real beneficiary of caps would be the insurance companies, not the doctors. The doctors must be protected from paying exorbitant insurance premiums. The real solution lies in protecting both doctors and their patients and avoiding windfalls to insurance companies.In the coming months there will be debates in the Congress about whether the Federal Government should take away significant rights of seriously injured victims of medical negligence. We will comment further as the debate continues.

LIMITING PATIENTS' RIGHTS WILL ONLY BENEFIT INSURANCE COMPANIES

No solution will ever be found to the increasing costs of medical insurance premiums if the focus is just to blame trial lawyers and take away the rights of the most seriously injured as a result of medical negligence. The primary focus must be on the insurance companies. Unfortunately, the insurance industry has not committed to reducing premiums if caps are imposed on claims. So, in paying less in claims, and not reducing malpractice premiums, the real beneficiary of caps would be the insurance companies, not the doctors. The doctors must be protected from paying exorbitant insurance premiums. The real solution lies in protecting both doctors and their patients and avoiding windfalls to insurance companies. In the coming months there will be debates in the Congress about whether the Federal Government should take away significant rights of seriously injured victims of medical negligence. We will comment further as the debate continues.

THE FOLLOWING ARE RESPONSES TO SOME OF THE MANY QUESTIONS THAT HAVE COME TO US.

I was in an automobile collision where the other driver was at fault. Thankfully, I was not injured, but my car was totaled. The other driver apologized. He gave me the name of his insurance company but they will not return my calls. What should I do?

Contact the Illinois Department of Insurance and register a complaint. The insurance company has an obligation to deal with you in good faith. Check with your insurance company to see if your coverage provides payment for your property damage. If it does, it can then pursue the other party's insurance company for reimbursement.

I got hurt on the job. My employer asked me not to contact an attorney and he would pay me for my time off as well as my medical bills. He paid me for the first month but it got slower and slower and now he has stopped paying altogether. He has not paid any of my medical bills. This happened over a year ago. Is it too late to do anything about it?

No. The Illinois Workers' Compensation Act allows you three years from the date of injury to file a claim. An injured worker is entitled to two-thirds of their wages as well as having 100% of their related medical bills paid. In addition, your employer may be subject to financial penalties for wrongfully withholding benefits. Contact an attorney immediately.

I was involved in an auto accident where the other party was at fault. The other party's insurance company called for a recorded statement and asked me about my legal status. Because of my status, I hung up. Do I have to answer this question. Do I still have a case?

The straightforward answers are (a) no; and (b) probably. The legal status of an injured party is irrelevant. It is not unheard of for people on vacation to suffer an injury, so why should you be any different? The only relevant questions pertain to the facts of the accident and the nature of your injuries. If you have suffered an injury and the other party was at fault, you should be entitled to monetary damages. As an aside, we would caution you against giving a recorded statement. The friendly person at the other end of the phone is a professional trained to save the insurance company money, usually at your expense.