December 1, 2009

STATE BAR ASSOCIATION CALLS ON NEW YORK STATE SENATE
TO TAKE A BALANCED APPROACH TO MEDICAL MALPRACTICE REFORM
AND TO REJECT LEGISLATION THAT SHIELDS THE NEGLIGENT FROM COMPENSATING THE INJURED

In Testimony Presented to the Senate, Bar President Getnick Says Civil Lawsuits Deter Wrongdoing and Provide Justice to Victims

In written testimony submitted to the New York State Senate today in Albany, New York State Bar Association President Michael E. Getnick (Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore, LLP and of counsel to Getnick & Getnick of New York City), urged senators to take a balanced approach to medical malpractice reform and to ensure that any changes to the law must improve the system and not impair access to our civil justice system. The joint hearing on Medical Malpractice Reform was held by the Senate's Standing Committees on Insurance, on Health and on Codes.

President Getnick said, "Lawyers and lawsuits have been attacked politically for years, but in reality, civil lawsuits shine a spotlight on wrongdoing, call the offenders to account, deter future misbehavior and provide justice for people who have been hurt.

"The facts simply are not on the side of those advocating for wholesale reform of the tort system," he continued. "Repeated studies have shown that approximately 100,000 people die each year due to medical malpractice in our nation's hospitals. These are not simply bad outcomes that were unavoidable; they are instances where physicians or hospitals failed to meet the standard of care - where independent expert evidence shows that the injury was avoidable."

In his testimony, Getnick noted several key facts that refute those who claim a "lawsuit explosion" and advocate legislation that would limit the liability of the negligent from having to fully compensate the victims of malpractice. Those facts include:

  • The number of medical malpractice lawsuits has remained consistent in recent years. 4,318 medical malpractice suits were filed in New York Statein 1998, compared with 4,195 in 2008.
  • No medical malpractice suit is filed without having a doctor's review of the facts supporting a conclusion that malpractice occurred.
  • If a frivolous lawsuit is filed, a judge can sanction the lawyer and dismiss the case.
  • If a jury awards too large an amount, a judge can reduce it.
  • The losing side can appeal a decision.

"We strongly urge that careful consideration be given to proposed changes to the law relating to medical malpractice, to ensure that they, in fact, would improve the system rather than impair access to the civil justice system, a system that was designed with several checks and balances to ensure that it is not easily abused," Getnick concluded. "It is necessary for people to have adequate 'access' to the civil justice system, and to have the trust and confidence in the system which is essential to the operation of a democratic society. I respectfully urge that this be a primary consideration for you and your colleagues as you work on this important issue."

To view a full copy of President Getnick's testimony, please visit http://www.nysba.org/MEGMedMalTestimony.

Founded in 1876, the 76,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. The State Bar's programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.

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