Press Releases

2005 Releases

Harvard School of Public Health and Common Good to Develop New Medical Injury Compensation System

For immediate release:  January 10, 2005 

Boston, MA--Harvard School of Public Health and Common Good, the nation’s bipartisan legal reform coalition, have been awarded a $1.5 million grant from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to design a prototype for a new medical injury compensation system including specialized administrative courts.

Hundreds of thousands of patients sustain serious preventable injuries in American hospitals every year. Only a fraction receive compensation, yet the high costs of delivering this compensation and the unreliability of outcomes in medical malpractice cases are causing major concern among healthcare leaders and patient safety advocates.

Specialized administrative compensation systems already exist in other areas of law in the U.S., such as childhood vaccine injury claims. The concept of specialized “health courts” has been advanced by Common Good over the last two years in a series of forums held with The Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute, building on research by the Harvard School of Public Health suggesting the feasibility and advantages for patient safety of such an approach. The RWJF grant will now make it possible for Common Good and faculty from Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management to perform further research and consensus-building work needed for demonstration projects of such courts to take place.

Health courts would offer judges dedicated full-time to addressing issues of medical injury, with the help of court-appointed experts and explicit guidelines for compensation of injuries that are considered avoidable. The judges’ rulings would help set clear and consistent standards for healthcare delivery.

Researchers will analyze the functioning of administrative systems handling medical injury cases already in place in countries such as Sweden and New Zealand. Among many issues, a new system for the U.S. would need definitions for the range of covered injuries, the qualifications for judges and expert witnesses, notice and consent procedures for patients covered by the system, nonlegal mechanisms for resolution of simple claims, standards for liability, procedures for appellate review and a way to integrate the system into patient safety regulation.

“Our current system of justice, as it relates to healthcare, is broken – for patients, doctors, and hospitals,” said Philip K. Howard, Chair of Common Good. “We need to restore reliability, and expert medical injury courts could do that. With this generous support from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we will now be able to refine the practical aspects of how such courts would work day-to-day.”

“This project represents a great step forward in creating expert courts to address medical injury,” said Troyen Brennan, MD, Professor of Health Policy and Management at Harvard School of Public Health. “The concept is clearly a compelling alternative to our current malpractice system, but a great deal of research and policy development is needed to make it a reality. With this grant, that can now happen.”

“Creative solutions are needed to solve the medical justice problem in this country,” said Nancy Barrand, RWJF Senior Program Officer. “Common Good and the Harvard School of Public Health have proposed an intriguing solution, in the form of expert courts, and the Foundation is interested in seeing that idea explored further.”

For additional information contact:
Harvard School of Public Health: Robin Herman at (617) 432-4752

Common Good: Danielle Rhoades at (212) 576-2700 or

RWJF: Andrea Daitz at (609) 627-5937 or

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., is the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. It concentrates its grantmaking in four goal areas: to assure that all Americans have access to quality health care at reasonable cost; to improve the quality of care and support for people with chronic health conditions; to promote healthy communities and lifestyles; and to reduce the personal, social and economic harm caused by substance abuse - tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.

Common Good ( is a bi-partisan legal reform coalition dedicated to restoring common sense to American law. Its board is composed of leaders in a wide range of fields: former government officials, including Griffin Bell, Newt Gingrich, Eric Holder, George McGovern, Diane Ravitch, Alan Simpson, and Richard Thornburgh; current and former university presidents, including Gov. Thomas Kean, George Rupp, and John Silber, and numerous other leaders in education, healthcare, law, business and public policy. The Chair of Common Good is Philip K. Howard, a lawyer and author of The Death of Common Sense and The Collapse of the Common Good.