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How tort reform could increase access to justice for patients

October 11, 2012, by Kyle Wingfield

Limiting damages in medical malpractice cases - what most people think of as "tort reform" - could become a hot topic again if Georgia legislators finally try to reimpose the caps thrown out by the state Supreme Court in 2010. Reformers, of course, say the threat of multimillion-dollar lawsuits prompts doctors to practice defensive medicine, needlessly costing our health-care system billions.

Critics say the caps effectively reduce access to the justice system by making malpractice cases less attractive to plaintiffs' attorneys. But judicial access could hardly be lower than it is under the current system.

That's the upshot of a new study by an Emory University law professor, who suggests another feature of today's jackpot justice - the high cost of pursuing a malpractice case - already prevents most people injured through medical negligence from having their day in court.

"The vast majority of attorneys reject the majority of cases they screen," says Joanna Shepherd-Bailey, author of the new study, "Justice in Crisis: Victim Access to the American Medical Liability System."

In fact, Shepherd-Bailey's survey of plaintiffs' attorneys across the nation found they tend to reject more than 90 percent of the potential cases brought to them.

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