Recent debates about redress mechanisms for medical accident victims have been sidetracked by fears of an American-style medical malpractice crisis. What is required is a framework within which the debate can resume. This paper proposes such a framework by focusing on the compensation and deterrence objectives and placing them in the wider context of the social costs of providing medical services. The framework is then used to assess and compare the effectiveness of differing approaches. In particular, the American and British experiences of litigation, including the concept of 'defensive medicine', are evaluated. Also discussed briefly are alternatives to court-based complaints procedures including 'no-fault' schemes, professional ethics and internal complaints mechanisms.
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