Have medical malpractice lawsuits changed how American women give birth?
That thesis, while seemingly far fetched, is growing in popularity among academics and tort reformers alike. Why do people believe this idea? How much good research supports it? In today’s post and one to follow, we’ll follow this discussion.
In 2009, researchers Yang et al published a provocative paper in the journal Medical Care, entitled “Relationship Between Malpractice Litigation Pressure and Rates of Cesarean Section and Vaginal Birth After Cesarean Section.” The paper tried to answer the question of whether our modern, increasingly litigious environment has caused a spike in the rate of cesarean sections (“C sections”).
The authors in the abstract made the following observation: “Since the 1990s, nationwide rates of vaginal birth after cesarean section (VBAC) have decreased sharply and rates of cesarean section have increased sharply. Both trends are consistent with clinical behavior reducing obstetricians’ exposure to malpractice litigation.”
The researchers tried to figure out how and whether the malpractice environment impacted VBAC and cesarean section rates. They used “state level longitudinal mixed effects regression models” to take a look at birth statistics in the U.S. from the early 1990s to 2003. They also tried to operationalize “malpractice pressure” by measuring the effect of tort reform and the size of liability insurance premiums.
The researchers DID find an association between increased “malpractice pressure,” as they defined the term, and an increase in a number of cesarean sections and VBACs. The New York Post jumped on this story and published its own interpretation, making it sound like medical malpractice lawyers caused a dismal, dangerous trend in the birthing industry.
Even the Post’s headline — “Do Medical Malpractice Threats, Real Or Imagined, Lead to More C Sections?” — is a leading question, if there ever was one. The Post quoted an expert, Naomi Riley, who said “there’s universal agreement in the medical community that too many C-sections are taking place, but the fact is that doctors don’t have much choice.”
The implication is clear: malpractice lawyers have made the birthing system more complicated and dangerous for moms and doctors alike.
Or have they?
In fact, this seemingly cut and dry case is anything but. In our next post, we’ll explore two huge problems with this thesis.
For now, if you need help with a potential D.C. medical malpractice case, contact the attorneys at Regan, Zambri & Long at (202) 753-4272 for immediate assistance.