In 2003, the Texas medical and insurance lobbies convinced voters to change their state constitution so that lawmakers could severely cap compensation to injured patients. They scared the public into believing that doctors would actually leave Texas unless people voted to give up their own constitutional rights. One glossy campaign brochure read, “Who Will Deliver Your Baby?” Once the measure passed, Texas lawmakers then made it nearly impossible to hold grossly-negligent doctors and hospitals accountable in court.
Instead, the state attracted butchers, like former neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch who was just sentenced by a jury to spend the rest of his life in prison:
For weeks, jurors heard the accounts of patients who had been maimed or paralyzed in horrifically bungled surgeries. Kellie Martin and Floella Brown died. They also heard from doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who were shocked by what they saw Duntsch do during and after those surgeries.
“So why didn’t he stop?” Shughart said. “Because of greed. Because he owed people a lot of money. He wanted to live the high life and a neurosurgeon makes big bucks. Why didn’t he stop? Because he had no conscience. He doesn’t care what he has left in his wake.”
But there’s another reason why he didn’t stop: the 2003 "cap" law.
As attorney Chris Hamilton explained, without this law, “Duntsch would not have been allowed to keep operating on patients. It is almost certain there would have been a significant liability lawsuit against one of the hospitals for an early patient …I cannot imagine a circumstance where the hospitals would not have kicked out a doctor like this much sooner.'”
This isn’t the only case of a butcher brain surgeon in Texas or even the only case we’ve covered. A few years ago, we found out about another guy, Dr. Stefan Konasiewicz, who, after being disciplined in Minnesota, made a bee line for Texas where he continued to harm patients as he operated on their brains.
But we don’t even need horrendous anecdotes like this to prove the point. Researchers studying patient safety in states with "caps" (like Texas) found “consistent evidence that patient safety generally falls” after caps are enacted. That’s because medical malpractice liability provides “general deterrence” — an incentive to be careful in general — in addition to any “specific deterrence” it may provide for particular actions.
Yet politicians in other state capitols (and possibly Washington DC) are considering new laws to stop liability lawsuits against hospitals or weaken the deterrent potential of the civil justice system. Such insanity. Perhaps they all need brain surgery. Try over at HUD.