Doctors have been claiming for more thanthirty years that lawsuits don’t help keep patients safe from harm. A California law passed in 1975 drastically restricted the legal rights of medical negligence victims, and included a cap on pain and suffering damages of $250,000. Doctors said the law was necessary to protect them from unmerited lawsuits, and that patient safety wouldn’t suffer. Patient advocates have argued that the threat of legal action is a powerful deterrent to medical negligence. The cap on damages in California, and many other states, has made it harder for patients to find legal representation, even in the most egregious cases. Imagine my surprise when I saw doctors arguing for legal rights too. As reported by the Associated Press today:
Top doctors who run one of the most influential U.S. medical journals are giving the U.S. Supreme Court some unsolicited legal advice about a major case.
Lawsuits can serve as "a vital deterrent” and protect consumers if drug companies do not disclose risks to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before it approves medicines for use, the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine said in a friend-of-the-court brief. The FDA "is in no position” to guarantee drug safety, the brief said.
At issue is Wyeth v. Levine, a case expected to be heard late this year that could have far-reaching implications for litigation over allegedly harmful drugs, such as the painkiller Vioxx.
So lawsuits are important to help ensure drug safety, but not patient safety in the hospital? Unlikely. If it’s true for one it has to be true for the other. The threat of legal action helps keep patients safe.