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Research Proves Unfounded Controversy Over Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

10/25/2005

We are constantly being bombarded with press clippings, statistics, and other propaganda suggesting that "frivolous lawsuits" are threatening medicine across this country. We hear that malpractice premiums are skyrocketing and driving physicians out of practice. Doctors are telling some stories that expectant mothers no longer can find obstetricians willing to deliver their babies.

However, documented research performed by groups within the insurance and medical industries exposes this "hype" over malpractice litigation for what it really is: special interest groups and politicians trying to gain a competitive edge. According to a recent article in USA Today, this furor is not justified by the research.

First, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, between 1995-2000 new medical malpractice claims declined by 4%. Next, the myth that jurors use sympathy to let weak cases succeed is also false. According to a 1996 study by the National Center for State Courts, the rate of victories for plaintiffs in a medical malpractice suit is about 30% lower than in any other litigation. Moreover, "a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that plaintiffs' win rates did not increase with the severity of injury" said the USA Today article.

Additionally, several studies have proven that even in cases where the verdict exceeds one million dollars, only about 25% of those verdicts ever actually get paid. The rest are reduced by the appellate courts or the case gets retried.

According to the USA Today article, the culprit of soaring malpractice premiums is the downturn in the stock market which reduced insurance company reserves and investment income. To illustrate this point, the USA Today article cites the experience of The St. Paul Companies, one of the nation's largest writers of medical malpractice insurance, who stopped writing such insurance because of investment losses, including $70 million in Enron alone.

USA Today goes on to cite the National Practitioner Data Bank as supporting the proposition that about 5% of physicians account for the majority of all medical malpractice claims. Of the doctors who have paid 5 or more malpractice claims, only 13.3% were subject to professional discipline.

USA Today author Carl Bogus concludes: "The most privileged among us may not have to worry about being treated by a doctor with a bad record. But the rest of us do. The civil justice system is a flashlight shining into the dark corners of the medical delivery system. Let's not dim the bulb."