Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Radical Plan to Cut Legal Costs in Medical Negligence Cases

The Irish Times reports that the government plans to reduce costs in medical negligence cases with a "radical" plan:
The plan would see the assessment of damages in such cases given to a State body rather than being fought through the courts. By dealing with claims in a non-adversarial manner without the use of lawyers, it is hoped to save the Exchequer up to €50 million over three years and resolve cases more quickly.

The proposal to create a medical injuries assessment board is modelled on the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, which was set up in 2004 to handle many other types of injury claims. It is credited with reducing these costs from 46 per cent of the value of awards to just 8 per cent.

If the plan is really about cutting legal costs, would a cap on legal fees not have sufficed? Why cut out lawyers?
To be sure, legal fees can be very high in some of these cases but lawyers provide a valuable service to patients with claims, hospitals and doctors alleged to have acted negligently, and to the courts charged with adjudicating these claims. Removing lawyers from the process will cause many claims to be pursued inadequately, thus ultimately harming victims. Moreover, in many cases, defendants have deeper pockets with consequent advantages over victims, and denying patients legal representation will only strengthen those advantages. In addition, hospitals have the advantage of institutional knowledge, which patients do not possess. Removing lawyers will also hurt defendants - it will deny the opportunity for those accused to advance their defence to the fullest extent allowed by law.
Removing lawyers from the process is a classic example of the cliche about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A cap on legal fees would be a better alternative.