"The tort system is not working well in terms of deterrence, and it's not looking like you can fix that by any tweak to the system," Studdert said. "It looks fundamental."
But industry representatives said the study underscores the need for medical liability reform.
"The report's findings that a facility's quality of care does not affect the frequency of litigation demonstrates that comprehensive tort reform is essential," said Teresa Cagnolatti, director of government relations for the American Health Care Association, a Washington, D.C-based nursing home industry group.
"These legal distractions demoralize providers and employees, threaten staffing ratios and most importantly diminish resources from facilities providing good quality of care," Cagnolatti said.
Stevenson said the lawsuits likely added to the cost of housing the frail and elderly, although the study did not determine how much.
And although the study was in nursing homes, "it's very reasonable to assume there is a similar situation happening in the acute care sector, with hospitals and doctors," Studdert said.
Medicare.gov has more on nursing home quality.
SOURCES: David Stevenson, Ph.D., associate professor, health care policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston; David Studdert, L.L.B., Sc.D., professor, law, University of Melbourne, Australia; Teresa Cagnolatti, director, government r
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