No point in studying flawed idea of a birth injury fund [Letter]

March 14, 2014

The editorial "More study needed on birth injury bill" (March 12) supports the creation of a "task force" to study the implementation of a "new" system for handling medical negligence cases involving birth-related neurological injuries, similar to a program in Virginia.

The idea of studying the Virginia program here in Maryland is far from new. Bills to create such a task force were introduced — and failed to garner support — in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Del. Dan K. Morhaim, the doctor-legislator leading the current effort, was a lead sponsor of three of the four previously-introduced bills.

The General Assembly was right to reject a task force in the past. Time that public officials spend on a task force is time that they can't spend addressing other, more urgent issues. No public time or taxpayer money should be wasted on a task force to study yet another failed system with illusory promises to resolve medical negligence claims out of court.

In the mid-1970's, supporters of another "new" system promised that mandatory arbitration would resolve medical negligence claims faster and more efficiently, saving everyone time and money. In reality, mandatory arbitration was an expensive disaster, and calls for its repeal have been echoing in Annapolis ever since.

The Virginia program is an even greater disaster, and everyone knows it. Virginia's insurance companies and hospitals promised to fund the program, but ever since they got tort immunity, they have been fighting to avoid paying up. Meanwhile, infant victims of medical negligence are shut out of Virginia's courts and must hire lawyers and sue the Commonwealth for a chance to get money from a fiscally unsound program that carries tens of millions of dollars in unfunded liabilities on its books.

Unlike the 1970's, there is no medical malpractice "crisis" at the present time. Maryland is an attractive place for doctors to practice medicine — the AMA reports that Maryland ranks second out of all 50 states in the number of active physicians per capita. The number of filed medical negligence claims is down in Maryland for the third year in a row, and the market for malpractice insurance here is stable, with the state's largest insurer giving 36 percent in premium discounts and credits to the obstetricians and other private physicians that it insures.

We don't need to waste public time and money to know that Virginia's failed no-fault program is a bad idea for Maryland.

George S. Tolley III, Timonium

The writer is immediate past president of the Maryland Association for Justice, which represents more than 1,300 trial attorneys in Maryland.

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