A medical malpractice crisis refers to a situation in which medical insurance is so high that doctors are either unable or unwilling to provide certain types of care, or in which doctors pass that cost on, making procedures unaffordable to patients. Some individuals believe there is a medical malpractice crisis occurring in the United States, and as such, these individuals advocate the concept of tort reform or of changing the medical malpractice system. Some states have responded positively to these requests, which indicates that those states may believe that a medical malpractice crisis exists or is a possibility.
Malpractice refers to a tort action that a plaintiff can bring if his doctor provided him with a standard of care that fell below the reasonable-doctor level. It is a civil suit, which means if the plaintiff can prove the doctor breached his duty of care and that the breach resulted in injuries, the plaintiff can recover money. Many believe that the lack of limits on potential damages that plaintiffs can recover has played a large role in leading to the medical malpractice crisis. Plaintiffs were receiving large settlements, which insurance companies had to pay for, and as such the insurance companies began to raise rates on physicians.
Some states within the United States have thus placed caps on damages a plaintiff can receive. For example, in California, a plaintiff injured by medical malpractice can only earn up to $250,000 US Dollars (USD) in non-compensatory damages in a malpractice case. That means that, although the plaintiff's full medical bills and actual expenses will be paid by the defendant if the doctor is held liable, the plaintiff is limited in the amount of damages for emotional distress and pain and suffering; he is also limited in the amount of punitive damages, if any, that are appropriate.
There is much controversy associated with whether a medical malpractice crisis exists or not. Some believe the tort system should be permitted to function as it is, as it acts as a deterrent for doctors against providing poor treatment. Others believe that it creates an increased chance of poor treatment, since doctors make decisions based on avoiding lawsuits instead of on what is truly best for patients. For example, obstetricians may recommend more cesarean sections than strictly necessary, since if something goes wrong during a vaginal birth, there is a higher chance the doctor will be found liable of medical malpractice.