Medical Malpractice Update

The Center for Justice and Democracy has released its new briefing book, “Medical Malpractice: By the Numbers.” If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, here are some highlights:

  • Very few injured patients ever file claims or lawsuits
    Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Researchers: “Only about 1% of adverse events due to medical negligence result in a claim.”
  • When patients do file claims, experts agree they are not “frivolous”
    ATRA General Counsel Victor Schwartz: “It is ‘rare or unusual’ for a plaintiff lawyer to bring a frivolous malpractice suit because they are too expensive to bring.”
    Harvard School of Public Health Researchers: “[P]ortraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown.”
  • The number & size of medical malpractice claims, adjusted to inflation, are low and dropping
    Northwestern University Researchers: “[A]ll states have experienced large drops in paid claims per physician and payout per physician…[T]he per-physician rate of paid med mal claims has been dropping for 20 years and in 2012 is less than half of the 1992 level.”
  • “Tort reforms” keep legitimate cases from being filed
    Emory University Researchers: “Data also suggest that the problem of access to justice is worsening; half as many victims with low damage awards recovered in 2010 as they did twenty-five years earlier. The economic realities of the medical liability system are silencing a growing number of victims…Victims who cannot attain legal representation are effectively excluded from the civil justice system. Because of the complexity and expense of medical malpractice lawsuits, employing a lawyer is critical to a successful claim. Thus, without legal representation, most of these victims will not be compensated for the harm they suffer as a result of medical negligence. In turn, the medical liability system will fail to provide adequate precautionary incentives for healthcare providers.” (emphasis added)
  • Patient safety is suffering because so few injured patients file claims
    Cornell University Researchers: “One possible factor contributing to the continued high rate of errors is that doctors do not expect to bear the full cost of harms caused by their negligence. Studies of medical error consistently find that the vast majority of patients injured by medical error do not file a claim.”
  • Litigation improves patient safety while “tort reform” harms it
    Harvard Medical Practice Study: “[T]he litigation system seems to protect many patients from being injured in the first place. And since prevention before the fact is generally preferable to compensation after the fact, the apparent injury prevention effect must be an important factor in the debate about the future of the malpractice litigation system.”

The entire report is vital reading to understand the state of our current medical malpractice system. You can read the whole thing here.

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