New Jersey State Bar Association - The voluntary Bar Association of New Jersey, serving members since 1899.

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Letter to the Editor from NJSBA President Edwin J. McCreedy on New Jersey Medical Care Access and Responsibility and Patients First Act

Office of the President

New Jersey State Bar Association

Dear Editor:

I am responding to the recent editorial in which the NJLJ Editorial Board criticizes the New Jersey State Bar Association for challenging the constitutionally of the New Jersey Medical Care Access and Responsibility and Patients First Act. The claim of the editorial seems to be that the NJSBA has taken precipitous action to eliminate a relatively small financial cost to New Jersey attorneys at the risk of reopening the debate about limiting awards for pain and suffering caused by medical malpractice.

Unfortunately, that debate has not ended, as evidenced by the stated desire of the President and Congressional leaders to impose caps on such awards. Moreover, the choice between a legislatively created assessment and limiting damage awards is a false one. There may be other workable alternatives, but in its rush to judgment the Legislature chose to take an easy way out by making lawyers scapegoats for the failed medical malpractice system. Despite repeated calls by the NJSBA for a comprehensive study of all factors that contributed to the putative medical malpractice “crisis,” the Legislature decided to sharply limit its focus and not address larger issues like the business practices of professional liability insurers or defects in the professional discipline of doctors.

The logic of the editorial is that lawyers should accept the legislative judgment and the negative stereotype that they are the ones who caused medical malpractice premiums to soar. One of the underlying principles of this lawsuit is that lawyers should not be treated worse than anyone else, and in particular, should not be singled out when so few practice either directly or indirectly in this specialized field of medical malpractice law. Nor, we would argue, should lawyers be penalized for doing what they are supposed to do – protect the rights of injured patients.

By bringing this lawsuit, we hope to stimulate a genuine critical examination of the root causes of rising medical malpractice insurance premiums. Not only would we be advancing the interests of our broad-based membership, but we would be promoting the public interest as well. The legislative scheme will not stabilize or reduce premiums; it only requires that one profession subsidize the costs of another without any examination, other than rhetorical claims, as to why those premiums escalated in the first place.

The NJSBA has never believed that the debate over medical malpractice insurance only comes down to the Hobson’s choice stated in your editorial. Perhaps we have less confidence than your Editorial Board that this legislation is merely a “mosquito-like annoyance.” Once this bite heals, we fear lawyers and the public will be stung again.

Very truly yours,

Edwin J. McCreedy, Esq.

President, New Jersey State Bar Association