Plunge Pontificates

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Medical Malpractice on the Rise

Medical malpractice suits are on the rise in Korea. That's fine, but that isn't, in my opinion, the most important part of the article. To me, the most important part is the unsettled law in Korea. They really just don't know what to do about this issue. Is the onus on the patient or the doctor and to what degree? What kind of compensation is just and what is unfair?

Some 885 medical malpractice cases were filed in 2004, up 34 percent from 661 in 2003, according to the Consumer Protection Board.

However, civic groups claim the real number of medical malpractices is 10 times higher than the figure given by the board.

The board says the cause of 552 of the 885 cases have been established, with 62.6 percent of them resulting from negligence by medical staff.

It says 21.1 percent were caused by insufficient explanation of the treatment process to patients and 0.1 percent by excessive or inappropriate treatment.

According to the board, medical professionals or hospitals were forced to pay 2.25 billion won to settle 284 of the cases. That works out to an average of 7.93 million won per case.

Many victims of medical malpractice complain that they are not properly compensated for the shock, pain and after-effects of the mistakes.

Bereaved families of victims continue to suffer from losing loved ones. Some become locked into uphill and never-ending legal battles in their struggle for compensation from doctors and hospitals.

The country has no viable system to settle the growing number of medical malpractice cases. This is a tragic situation.

Lawmakers have presented a bill on medical malpractice prevention and the relief of malpractice victims to the National Assembly six times since 1989. But the bills were blocked every time due to conflicting interests of the government, medical professionals and civic groups.

Under the current law, medical malpractice victims must prove fault by doctors to get compensation. The reality is that victims find it difficult or impossible to prove fault or negligence.

In a move to better protect victims, some civil right activists and progressive politicians have called for the passage of a medical malpractice settlement bill.

However, medical professionals and hospitals strongly oppose the bill, claiming it might discourage doctors in the diagnosis and treatment of patients because they will be more concerned about the risks of medical malpractice.

Last September, the Uri Party announced a plan to work out a medical malpractice bill that would put the onus on medical professionals to prove they were not negligent if a dispute occurs. If they could not prove their innocence, they would be held responsible for malpractice.

But, because of strong opposition from the medical sector and the government’s lukewarm attitude toward it, no legislative progress on the bill has been made.

Wow, what is the answer. I'm asking those in the legal community in Korea to comment if they would. You guys know who you are. Your comments would be greatly appreciated, as long as I don't have to pay your hourly rate. ;-)