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Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Are Decreasing in Number and Monetary Value

No Link Between Increased Doctors' Insurance Rates and Medical Malpractice Lawsuits, New Study Finds

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- April 29, 2005 -- Lawsuits by injured patients did not cause a spike in doctors' insurance rates, according to a new study by the consumers' group, Public Citizen. The report also concludes that there is no insurance crisis and that the current medical malpractice system is working.

By reviewing statistics from the federal National Practitioner Data Bank, the study found:

  • Medical malpractice claims are declining, not increasing. The total value of medical malpractice payments to patients was basically unchanged from 1991 through 2000, and has been decreasing since 2001. This trend is the same for the number of payments made--from 16,682 in 2001 to 14,441 in 2004.
  • Jury verdicts are not out of control. When adjusted for inflation, the median medical malpractice payment grew from $125,000 in 1991 to $146,100 in 2004 -- an average annual increase of only 1.2%.
  • Multimillion dollar payments to injured patients are declining. The proportion of payments of $1 million or more, adjusted for inflation, is down from 2.25% of all payments in 1991 to 1% of all payments in 2004. This is a decrease of 56%.
  • The medical malpractice system is dealing with the most serious injuries. Three-quarters of payments for 2004 involved major injuries or death; those with minor injuries received comparatively little.
  • Most kinds of common, preventable medical errors have increased over time, and 5.5% of doctors were responsible for causing injuries that resulted in 57.3 % of medical malpractice payments.

"We have no medical malpractice lawsuit crisis in America," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen (Press Release, April 19, 2005). "Insurance companies may be padding their bottom lines by jacking up rates on doctors, but it is not because of patients seeking relief for bad medical care through our courts. The true crisis continues to be in inadequate measures for patient safety and incompetent medical care by a small number of physicians."

"The evidence shows that the system is working as it should, with minor injuries receiving little compensation and the great bulk of malpractice awards going to cases of major, debilitating injuries - or death," added Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch. "Rather than complain about medical malpractice lawsuits, the medical community should address its own failings and strive aggressively to improve the performance and competency of its doctors and better protect patients. That is the surest way to keep both doctors and patients out of the courtroom."

Caps on Medical Malpractice Awards Do Not Help Lower Insurance Premiums

Public Citizen's report comes at a time when some doctors and legislators want to limit the amounts that injured patients may receive from lawsuits for pain and suffering. However, many consumer groups agree with Public Citizen that such caps damage the severely injured yet do little to lower malpractice premiums.

They point to California as an example of how caps do not have an effect on insurance premiums. In this case, medical malpractice premiums greatly increased during the thirteen-year period after the passage of a California law capping at $250,000 the amount a patient can recover for pain, suffering, and emotional distress. In 2001, the average California premium was $27,570, eight percent higher than the average of all states that had no caps on non-economic damages. Premiums decreased only after insurance regulation was passed (Medical Malpractice, CAOC).

Two federal proposals, which are now circulating among U.S. House members, attempt to control insurance premiums (Newsday, April 25, 2005). One requires a state's insurance commissioner to give prior approval for any medical malpractice rate increases. It is unclear whether these lengthy bills will also include provisions that would limit damage payments to injured patients, according to news sources.

We will continue to report on the status of insurance bills and other related medical malpractice legislation. For legal information about your potential medical malpractice case, please feel free to contact us at Brayton Purcell. We have almost 20 years of experience in the medical malpractice field, and work tirelessly to protect the rights of our clients.

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