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Medical Malpractice Claims: Litigation And Trial Numbers

Tort reform advocates often base their criticism of the current system on claims that jury verdicts in favor of medical malpractice plaintiffs are too high and driving insurance companies & medical professionals out of business.  However, past research and a recent study show that less than 5% of medical malpractice claims ever reach a verdict at trial, and that almost 80% of the time the verdict is in favor of the medical specialist.

A new study appearing in the American Medical Association’s current issue of Archives in Internal Medicine shows that even though most medical malpractice cases are litigated, few actually make it to trial.  In what may be bad news to those injured by medical malpractice, a large amount of the medical malpractice cases that are litigated are dismissed prior to trial, and close to 80% of the cases that do make it to trial are resolved against the plaintiff.

The study, entitled “Outcomes of Medical Malpractice Litigation Against US Physicians,” examined 10,056 medical malpractice claims closed between 2002 and 2005 where there was some defense cost involved.  The data included medical malpractice cases from all U.S. states.

The results showed that 55% of all medical malpractice claims involved litigation.  Of the cases that resulted in litigation, 54% were dismissed by the court in favor of the medical provider.  Of the cases that were not dismissed by the court, between 33 and 50% were settled before they reached a trial verdict.  Only 4.5% of medical malpractice claims reached a trial verdict.  What’s more, of the few cases that did reach a verdict, right at 80% resulted in favor of the medical care specialist.

The numbers for litigation, settlement, and verdicts varied greatly among medical specialties.  For example, even though overall 55% of medical malpractice claims involved litigation, this figure ranged from a low of 47% for claims against anesthesiologists to a high of 63% for claims against gynecologists and obstetricians.  The rate of court dismissal also varied among specialties from 37% against pathologists to 62% against internists and medicine-based subspecialists.  These specialties also had the highest and lowest ranges of reaching a settlement before a verdict, with 33% of internists and medicine-based subspecialists and 49% of pathologists settling their cases before verdict.  The rate of claims actually reaching a verdict at trial was also notable among specialties, with 2% for anesthesiologists and 7.4% for pathologists.

The study also showed that the life of a claim was extended by the litigation process, with each step adding additional delays to the case resolution.  The average time to close a claim was 19 months for all cases, with an average of 11.6 months for non-litigated claims and 25.1 months for litigated claims.  Of the claims that were litigated, cases that were dismissed took the least amount of time, 20.4 months, on average.  Claims that reached a verdict in favor of plaintiffs took the longest to resolve, 43.5 months.

This new study shows that despite the news stories of huge verdicts in favor or plaedit-siteintiffs, this is hardly the norm.  It would seem that the deck is overwhelmingly stacked in favor of medical professionals and insurance companies.  In light of this, consulting an experienced medical malpractice attorney on the merits and strengths of your case is of the utmost importance.   And keep in mind that most attorneys will have very strict medical malpractice screening and evaluation processes due to the high costs, high risks and low success rates of medical malpractice claims.

Additional Reading:The Myth of the Frivolous Medical Malpractice LawsuitMedMal Cap Protection in New Mexico Protects both Doctors and Medical CorporationsCaps on Medical Malpractice Damages Do Not Lower Insurance Premiums or Healthcare Costs