- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

You are driving through Mississippi and you develop a serious pain in your side. What do you do? If you are smart, you keep on driving until you reach the border. Malpractice awards in Mississippi have discouraged doctors from taking up practice in the tort capital of the United States. Juries look at doctors like they are a well of money with no bottom. As a result, these same jurors may find themselves with a serious problem when it comes to seeking treatment for whatever illness they may develop.

There are two major consequences of these outrageous, multimillion-dollar malpractice settlements. First, doctors are avoiding taking up practice in states where the awards are out of control. Also, insurance companies will be forced to abandon the malpractice insurance business. So, if you live in Mississippi and fall ill, you might want to consider suing the lawyers who are responsible for forcing health-care facilities to close and driving physicians out of the area.

There are surgeons who will refuse to undertake a high-risk procedure where the patient's chances are slim to begin with simply to avoid a malpractice lawsuit. This is not good news for any of us. Doctors specializing in obstetrics and gynecology have been hit hard with malpractice suits. Now, fewer doctors are delivering babies. If you are looking at a $200,000 premium for malpractice insurance added on to what Uncle Sam will be taking, you would probably be better off as a truck driver.

It is not just the medical profession that is under tort attack. Construction companies, pharmaceutical companies and any business that had the remotest connection with asbestos are fair game. Too bad we can't buy stock in law firms. They seem to be the growth industry of the future, at least until we have no more industry. We have entered an age where we have too many lawyers with too little to do. We have awards going to people who aren't sick but might get sick. That should be some kind of warning.

To say the system needs change is putting it mildly. I have always felt that taking a jury off the street and having it decide which medical expert is lying is a bad way to run a trial of any kind. This same jury could be involved in the intricacies of high-rise construction making decisions usually made by architects. Professionals making careless mistakes should be penalized, but not to the point where all of us are paying the bill because of awards that defy reason.

It won't be long before we have lawsuits against emergency medical technicians working on us in the ambulance hauling us to the nearest hospital 100 miles away because the lawyers have driven all the doctors out of town. Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is warning members about doing business in Mississippi where there are no caps on jury awards and every attempt at reform has been shot down. This will change when the politicians find they have to go out of state to get treatment for an illness.

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