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Conference Explores Medical Malpractice as a Global Issue

April 26, 2011

The myriad medical malpractice issues with which patients, doctors, hospitals, insurers, the courts and policy makers around the world must grapple came into focus during an international conference at the law school on April 22.

The conference, sponsored by the law school’s Health Law Program and Suffolk University Law School, brought together leading legal scholars from Europe, Australia and Asia, as well as the U.S.

Professor Barry Furrow and Professor Robert Field offered present and past perspectives on medical malpractice reforms in the U.S.

Professor Marc A. Rodwin of Suffolk University Law School discussed civil and criminal tracks through which medical malpractice cases are pursued through the courts in France, which appoint independent experts to evaluate the merits of plaintiffs’ claims.

Philippe Pierre of the University of Rennes’ Western Institute of Law and European Studies, Brigitte Feuillet of the University of Rennes and the Sorbonne and Dominique Thouvenin of the Sorbonne traced the causes and effects of reforms in France. The panelists outlined reforms adopted in the wake of landmark litigation involving a mother who was tested during pregnancy for rubella, got an inaccurate clean bill of health and then gave birth to a grossly disabled child. The case spurred reforms that allowed for faster resolution of malpractice complaints. As the financial burden for covering claims has shifted from private insurers to the public sector, the number of cases and the volume of damages awarded have greatly increased.

Robert Leflar of the University of Arkansas School of Law, Nathan Cortez of Southern Methodist University School of Law and Angus Corbett of the University of Technology in Sydney discussed reforms undertaken in Asia and Australia. Japanese reforms that criminalized doctors backfired in recent years, as the public blanched at prosecutors’ heavy-handed responses to adverse treatment results, Leflar said. India’s creation of consumer forums that resolve claims quickly led to improvements, yet Mexico’s arbitration system serves as a better model for developing countries, Cortez said. Tort reform that followed the collapse of Australia’s insurance industry resulted in a system that benefited the companies and put new emphasis on the assumption of risk by consumers, Corbett said.

Tort reform efforts in the U.S. have done little to address dysfunction in the health care system, said David Hyman of the University of Illinois College of Law. Haavi Morreim of the University of Tennesse College of Medicine said new models for dispute resolution that incorporate early mediation have proven extremely effective for reducing costs while offering redress to patients. Josh Goldstein, a former health reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and current director of social media at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, discussed a campaign to promote employee hand-washing that reflects momentum that is gathering in the patient safety movement.