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

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NJSBA President Edwin J. McCreedy Decries Signing Of Med Mal Legislation That Assesses Attorneys To Bailout Doctors

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–New Jersey State Bar Association President Edwin J. McCreedy issued the following statement today in response to the signing of ACS for A-50 (Roberts/Cohen/Weinberg/McKeon), “New Jersey Medical Care Access and Responsibility and Patients First Act,” by Governor James McGreevey.

“On behalf of the members of the New Jersey State Bar Association, we are outraged that the Governor and Legislature have passed a bill that requires all New Jersey attorneys to pay an annual assessment that will fund the medical malpractice insurance premiums of doctors in high-risk specialties. We see this assessment as patently unfair to our members and to the lawyers of New Jersey.

The overwhelming majority of attorneys who will be assessed do not practice, or are involved in any way with the field of medical malpractice. Now they are being required to pay part of the business expenses of another profession. And, it is not even clear that these are legitimate business expenses, because the role that insurance companies have played in escalating premiums and denying coverage was never fully explored by the Legislature or Governor. Only with the passage of this bill is a comprehensive study commission being established. That should have been done long before this ill-advised legislation, which provides a “solution” without first determining the cause of the problem.

Equally troubling is the fact that the annual assessment will also be used to assist medical students in paying off some of their student loans. Many attorneys employed in government, public service, or who are young lawyers are struggling with their own student loans. Now they will be saddled with this additional financial burden.

This assessment penalizes all New Jersey lawyers for the work that a few specialists do to protect the interests of clients and seek redress for injuries. In defense of those specialists, this is precisely what lawyers are supposed to do and what society expects of them.

The facts remain clear. According to the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts, the number of medical malpractice cases has been declining. These cases represent less than two percent of all civil lawsuits filed in state courts. Most cases are settled, and doctors win the vast majority of cases that do go to trial (151 out of 205 jury verdicts in 2002).

These statistics seriously call into question whether or not a medical malpractice insurance “crisis” exists, yet the Legislature and Governor seemingly ignored them. There may have been other ways to address increases in medical malpractice insurance premiums. However, without the benefit of a truly comprehensive study at the outset, that opportunity has been lost for now.

While there are other provisions in the bill that may have beneficial effects on medical malpractice cases in New Jersey, the immediate impact of this bill penalizes the lawyers of this state for a public health issue not of their making. We continue to believe that the best way to reduce the costs of medical malpractice insurance is to reduce the incidence of medical malpractice. The NJSBA will examine the legal options available to pursue on behalf of our members.”

The New Jersey State Bar Association, incorporated in 1899, is dedicated to the continuing education of lawyers and the public, to reforming and improving the legal system and to aiding in the administration of justice.