Emily Chow


United States citizens spent $5267 per capita on health care in 2002, nearly $2000 more than any other country, with annual spending reaching $1.6 trillion. Yet quality and availability of medical care continue to be concerns, and medical malpractice litigation is frequently blamed for rising consumer costs and skyrocketing physicians' malpractice premiums. With physicians abandoning medical specialties with high malpractice premiums like neurosurgery, and obstetrics-gynecology residencies reaching only 65% capacity for the medical school class of 2004, there is a growing consensus within the medical community that current efforts to resolve the "medical malpractice crisis" are failing. The debate has spawned a variety of actions, including implementing noneconomic damage caps, physician walkouts, and the firing of a hospital staff member whose spouse's law firm had a malpractice group. A surgeon from South Carolina has even attempted to obtain the American Medical Association's (AMA) support for his grassroots approach of refusing treatment to malpractice lawyers, their families, and their employees: "[it is] analogous to hitting the lawyers with a 2-by-4. Now we have their attention. Now maybe we can make some progress."

In fact, there has not been much progress in medical malpractice reform, especially as compared to the technological advancements in medicine over the last thirty years. Malpractice became "medicine's most serious crisis" for the first time in 1975, when many commercial insurers struggled to provide adequate coverage for physicians. Despite the cyclical onset of several of these crises, the traditional tort system remains the primary tool for victims of malpractice seeking compensation.