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Authors of New Book Ask: “Is Medical Malpractice Reform Possible?”

05/21/2021

After heart disease and cancer, the third leading cause of death in the United States is avoidable injury or infection caused by medical treatment. This startling fact was the impetus for Visiting Professor Stephan Landsman and co-author Michael J. Saks to write Closing Death’s Door: Legal Innovations to End the Epidemic of Healthcare Harm (Oxford University Press, 2021).

At the May 18 virtual book launch and panel discussion hosted by the Law School, the authors described the unsuccessful efforts by the healthcare industry and the law to effectively address death by medical error. They posit that the primary deterrent to such errors, malpractice litigation, is inadequate, with fewer than 3 percent of negligently injured patients or their families receiving any compensation from a doctor or hospital’s insurer.

“Medical error is an equal opportunity killer,” said Landsman. “It kills the rich and the poor, the famous and the unknown, the sophisticated and the uninformed. Much of the problem, like most of an iceberg, is hidden beneath the surface, covered up and never identified, discussed, or admitted.”

Landsman, who has a long relationship with Brooklyn Law School, is an emeritus professor at DePaul College of Law, where he is the organizer and director of the Clifford Symposium on Tort Law and Social Policy. Saks is a Regents’ Professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and department of psychology at Arizona State University.

“We need to shift the conversation from helping doctors and hospitals avoid deposition by a lawyer and quibbling about ways to tweak malpractice litigation,” said Saks. “Let’s instead start thinking afresh about what, if anything, the law can do to promote safety in healthcare.”

The authors were joined on the panel by David Hyman, the Scott K. Ginsburg Professor of Health Law & Policy at Georgetown Law Center. The event was moderated by Karen Porter, the Arthur Pinto & Stephen Bohlen Associate Dean for Inclusion and Diversity and associate professor of clinical law and the executive director of the Center for Health, Science, and Public Policy.

“The book is arresting,” said Porter, “not because medical malpractice and error is something new, but the volume of information that’s presented is new and exposes how significant a problem this is in the U.S. medical community.”

Landsman recognized the support of Law School faculty and staff and the work of students who served as research assistants. “Much of the work in the book reflects their diligent efforts in the library and is a tribute to how terrific they are,” said Landsman.

Purchase the book from the Brooklyn Law School Bookshop