Approximately 15 percent of all personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits filed throughout the nation result from medical malpractice. This translates into roughly 20,000 medical malpractice claims filed each year, despite estimates that up to 120,000 annual incidents of medical negligence occur. Age, gender and additional characteristics of the average plaintiff have been analyzed. While the vast majority of claims are settled out of court, those that proceed to trial generally have larger payouts. Certain areas of medical specialization account for a larger percentage of claims than others, and some states have far more than their proportional share of payouts. Healthcare expenses related to medical liability amounted to $35 billion in 2009, a figure representing a mere two percent of all expenditures for the industry as a whole. Despite the continued push by medical insurance providers for tort reform and increased limits on recovery, research reveals that medical liability costs do not raise healthcare expenses for the general public nor drive medical providers out of business.
Acts of Negligence Underreported – Certain Specialties More Prone to Liability
For every act of medical negligence resulting in a personal injury or death which actually gets recorded, four more such incidents are believed to occur. The lack of a written record of errors is not surprising considering the desire for healthcare providers and hospital administrative staff alike to avoid litigation, sometimes at all costs. OB/GYN practitioners were named as defendants in the largest percentage of cases according to a 2006 analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine, with surgeons following close behind and general physicians rounding out the top three types of providers most likely to be sued. Another analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that close to half of all claims involve outpatient cases specifically related to errors in diagnosis, while another third are filed on behalf of patients who suffered an injury or death after an inpatient surgical procedure.
Age and Gender Analyzed; Average Payouts Vary
Middle aged female plaintiffs initiate medical malpractice lawsuits more frequently than any other group and are involved in 60 percent of all cases. Another 20 percent of cases involve newborn babies who are all too often negatively affected by medical negligence during their birth experience. A full 93 percent of all medical negligence payouts result from out of court settlements, the average of which varies from $290,000 to $462,000, depending on which yearly analysis is referenced. With the remaining seven percent of payouts resulting from a full courtroom trial, the average amount jumps to nearly $800,000, although only 21 percent of jury verdicts are found to be in favor of the plaintiff, compared with settlements where 61 percent of plaintiffs are the favored party.
Lawsuits More Prevalent in Certain States
Population alone cannot account for the vast differences in the number of medical malpractice lawsuits and payouts which emanate from a small number of states. Some of the nation’s most populous states, such as California and Texas, have passed limits on recovery that “cap” the amount a plaintiff can receive for non-economic damages, regardless of the severity of their injury. New York, a state with tort laws favoring the general public over medical insurance providers, reported more than $763 million in payouts during 2012, far more than any other state in the country. Pennsylvania was the runner up with slightly greater than $316 million in payouts, while California, Florida and New Jersey rounded out the list of top five states with the highest payouts, reporting slightly over $200 million each. All told, the total amount of medical malpractice payouts during 2012 was $3.6 billion, a figure which represents only a small fraction of the total litigation expenses paid for by the healthcare and healthcare insurance industries as a whole.
Tort Reform Benefits Medical Insurance Providers, Not the Public
Insurance companies who provide policies for healthcare professionals utilize well funded lobbyists to promote tort reform in the United States Chamber of Commerce. These groups claim that the high costs involved with litigation have driven up insurance expenses to the public and forced many physicians to close down their practices, leaving the public in need of medical care. When such claims are analyzed by independent researchers, however, no correlations are found with healthcare insurance rates nor with the number of doctors who leave or enter states as tort reform laws are altered. After Texas passed strict tort reform laws in 2003, more physicians were expected to begin practicing within the state, yet this did not occur. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) report that litigation related expenses amount to less than two percent of all healthcare expenditures. When these factors are taken into account, it becomes clear that the push for tort reform is intended to protect the interests of medical insurance providers rather than the general public. Regardless of where you live, working with a professional attorney who is familiar with your type of injury or wrongful death case will be a significant factor determining the total payout you are able to receive.