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Malpractice Suits Lead to Texas Protest

April 09, 2002|From Associated Press

EDINBURG, Texas — Hundreds of doctors and other medical professionals closed their offices Monday to protest malpractice lawsuits that they say have led to skyrocketing insurance premiums.

Many of them descended on the Hidalgo County Courthouse for a "day of awareness."

Dr. Jose Igoa, a 47-year-old psychiatrist who held a picket sign, says he paid $28,000 for medical malpractice insurance last year--three to four times what he paid five years ago. Now, he can't find a renewal policy.

Like other doctors here, he says, he has been the target of frivolous lawsuits that take time out of his practice and are stressful. He says the problem is getting worse.

"We're doctors. We train more than half of our lives to help people. We don't want to cause harm to anybody," he said. "We understand that when we cause some damage we want people to be fairly compensated. But when it comes to legal extortion . . . it changes the way we practice medicine."

Up the coast in Nueces County, where 63% of doctors had claims filed against them in the last 13 years, doctors planned simultaneous activities to show support.

Emergency services at hospitals will not be stopped.

"They see this as a plea for survival for doctors and patients," said Jon Opelt of Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, which helped organize and publicize the protest.

Critics of the walkout say doctors are being misled by groups backed by big business and seeking limits on jury awards. They say there's no guarantee that insurance companies will pass savings from such limits on to policyholders. Meanwhile, they say, tort reforms give patients less recourse against medical errors that kill more people than car accidents, cancer or AIDS.

Since 1999, seven of 17 malpractice insurance carriers serving Texas have left or gone belly up, according to the Texas Department of Insurance.

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