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Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Not Related to Insurance Rate Hikes

Medical Malpractice Awards to DC Patients Have Declined, Study Says

WASHINGTON, DC -- May 27, 2005 -- The increase in medical malpractice insurance premiums in the District of Columbia is not due to lawsuits and payments to injured patients, according to a new study by the consumer group, Public Citizen. The total value of payments to medical malpractice victims actually decreased by 52.5% from 1991 to 2004, as adjusted for inflation, the study found. The decline was 64% from 2001 to 2004.

Public Citizen presents these figures at a time when District Mayor Anthony Williams has proposed strict medical damage limits, and a local task force is considering medical malpractice and insurance issues. The study dispels the myth that there is a medical liability crisis.

The federal government keeps a National Practitioner Data Bank, which tracks malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors by insurance companies, insurance funds and self-insured health care providers. Public Citizen's analysis of the Data Bank's statistics for the District of Columbia showed:

  • The median value of doctors' medical malpractice payments, adjusted for inflation, decreased by 22.9% from the $175,000 level in 1991 and by 31.6 percent since a peak of $197,300 in 1998.
  • The number of medical malpractice payments of $1 million or more, adjusted for inflation, fell from seven in both 1998 and 2001 to zero in 2004.
  • Malpractice payments benefited those who were most seriously injured. Seventy-nine percent of payments for 2004 involved major injuries or death.
  • A small number of doctors accounted for the major portion of all medical malpractice payments. Many of these doctors have not been disciplined by the District Board of Medicine.

"The call for curtailing the rights of District patients injured by inept or negligent medical care to seek relief in the courts is altogether misguided," concluded Frank Clemente, director of Public Citizen's Congress Watch. "Yes, insurance companies have been hiking their rates on local doctors, but lawsuits filed by injured District patients are plainly not the cause." (Press Release, Public Citizen, May 24, 2005).

Other States Report Similar Results

Studies about medical malpractice lawsuits in Texas, Oregon, West Virginia, Arkansas, and California yielded results that are similar to those in the District of Columbia. Economic cycles, not lawsuits, caused insurance premium increases.

California's experience provides a good example of how caps on damages for injured patients do not have an effect on insurance premiums. 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).

In recent months, House Republicans have introduced federal legislation that would limit non-economic damages or pain-and-suffering claims at $250,000 in medical malpractice lawsuits. Democrats have introduced the Comprehensive Medical Malpractice Reform Act, which would set a damage cap of $887,000, an inflation-adjusted figure (Washington Times, May 25, 2005).

Brayton Purcell is concerned that federal legislation may severely limit the rights of the sick and injured in a misplaced attempt to control insurance premiums. We will continue to keep you informed about any federal and state bills concerning medical malpractice.

For more general information about medical malpractice and medical errors, see Medical Malpractice Claims. If you have been injured because of a physician's negligence, please feel free to contact us. We have been handling medical/legal cases for over 20 years and work tirelessly to protect the rights of our clients.

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