There is good and bad news for plaintiffs in medical malpractice litigation. The rate of paid malpractice claims dropped almost 56 percent in this country between 1992 and 1994 according to research by the Harvard Medical School. However, the average payout for successful claims grew around 23 percent, exceeding $353,000 in 2009-2014. This was a sharp rise from the average payout of $287,000 during 1992-1996.
About eight percent of the 280,000 claims that had payouts exceeded $1 million in 2009-2014. One-third of these claims involved a patient fatality. Researchers found that diagnostic error was the most common complaint in these suits.
The lead researcher in this study attributed these figures to the impact of new laws that limit damage claims. These laws have resulted in less lawyers filing actions because of smaller potential contingency payouts. These laws have also imposed procedural hurdles such as claim screening panels that eliminate some legal claims. The malpractice suits that survived this process are stronger and the payouts are potentially higher. Therefore, according to the lead researcher, it is likely that the average claim amount would rise.
A medical director at a large medical malpractice insurer also attributes this pattern to the strongest malpractice lawsuits being pursued. He pointed out that the top one percent of doctors with the most paid claims represented approximately eight percent of all paid claims.
Payout trends differed significantly among specialties. Payments for general practitioners grew by $17,400, for example, while those for pathologists rose by $139,000. The same trend was also reflected where the number of paid claims declined. There was a drop of 14 percent in cardiology claims and an even greater 76 percent decline in pediatrics.
This was attributed to cardiologists performing more procedures that are life-saving, such as reopening clogged arteries. More sophisticated neonatal intensive care units may be responsible for the even steeper drop in pediatric claims.
These statistics underline the need for expert assistance when medical negligence leads to serious injuries or death. An attorney can help victims of malpractice and their families gather evidence and ensure that they can pursue their rights in a lawsuit if there is negligence.
Source: CBS News, "Fewer medical malpractice lawsuits succeed, but payouts are up," Dennis Thompson, March 28, 2017