$130,000,000 Verdicts Don’t Raise Medical Costs

A jury in one of New York's most conservative counties recently returned a $130 million verdict in a medical-malpractice case, the second-largest in the state's history. Lawyers for the losing hospital decried a "jury out of control" and called for more tort reform. Before the case went to trial, their offer of an $8 million settlement was turned down.

What the defense lawyers seemed not to realize is that tort reform hasn't worked for 25 years. And large verdicts may be the most effective drivers in making health care safer.

The case, Reilly v. St. Charles Hospital, centered on the birth of Shannon Reilly in 2002. The jury determined that the Long Island hospital and the obstetric nurse had failed to properly monitor the pregnant mother and her fetus, missed important signs that the baby was in distress, and then failed to take corrective action. When interviewed, jury members said that they agreed with plaintiff's attorney Thomas Moore that the child -- who was born with severe brain injury and has a form of cerebral palsy -- is a "prisoner in her own body" and that the medical errors were avoidable.

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