The Attorney General recently mentioned that he is considering moving towards the establishment of a Medical Complaints Council and a no-fault-based-compensation system. There are many advantages to this.
Several countries have no-fault compensation systems for medical injuries. New Zealand, Sweden, and Denmark have replaced litigation with administrative compensation systems in which patients who sustain an avoidable medical injury can apply directly, without an attorney, for compensation. A panel of medical experts reviews the case and decides on compensation.
Such systems allow compensation to the injured parties without finding fault or negligence. This immediately increases the pool of patients who are entitled to compensation. More importantly, information from claims is used to analyze opportunities for system improvements. Thus, these systems acknowledge that most medical errors are actually system errors and become mechanisms to seek system improvements. In this way, no-fault compensation systems are the most rational of oversight systems available today.
New Zealand instituted no-fault medical liability in 1974 and has demonstrated benefits in efficiency both in time and money. Typical trials in the United States take years to resolve, while the average claim in New Zealand is processed in weeks, with all decisions made within 9 months. With a fixed compensation system for similar types of injury, there is uniformity in the compensation among patients. No time is wasted on trying to determine who is at fault; the focus instead is on the patient’s injury and delivering compensation.
This time saving translates to monetary savings. While upward of $122 billion is spent per year in medical malpractice in the United States, only $29 million per year is spent on the no-fault compensation in New Zealand. Further, more of the award actually goes to the patient. In the United States, attorney fees and administrative costs typically consume 55 percent of plaintiff awards, compared to just 10 percent in New Zealand.
Finally, more patients are eligible for compensation. New Zealand has introduced concepts of both “medical negligence” and “medical mishap,” defining a mishap as an untoward event that is not based in negligence. Patients who sustain injury due to mishap can be compensated, making more patients eligible for redress.
This will definitely be a step to modernizing our justice system if this comes to pass in Trinidad and Tobago and the Attorney General should be commended for considering this.