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Each year, 80 million people are the victim of medical malpractice. However, only one out of eight of these individuals decide to file a malpractice lawsuit, putting to rest the myth that massive numbers of flimsy claims are wrongly dragging doctors into court.

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Nevertheless, doctors and insurance companies claim that these malpractice payouts and settlements are taking the greatest toll on our health care system and require legislative action. However, the fact remains that medical negligence claims account for just 0.3 percent of health care costs and are essential to protecting and compensating patients who have been harmed out of medical malpractice and negligence.

Medical Malpractice Defined

When a medical professional has performed an action that results in injury to the patient, the medical professional is said to be guilty of malpractice. To prepare for the possibility that their patients will believe that they have been the victims of medical malpractice, medical professionals purchase liability insurance, called malpractice insurance. 96 percent of these cases are settled out of court with the attorneys representing both parties deciding on a reasonable monetary settlement.

Settlements of Past Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

After people file their malpractice lawsuits, they can expect to receive at least two of the three different types of the following awards if they win their cases:

  • Actual damages that would include lawyer fees, any lost income, and the medical bills that result from treating the injury that was caused by the physician’s negligence
  • Economic award for pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages, much less common, are awarded when people have been the victim of a medical professional who commits malpractice willfully or is negligent in an extreme manner

Medical Malpractice Settlements

When given the opportunity to settle their cases without going to court, the large insurance companies will generally opt to do so to save the money they would have had to spend on their legal defense. This is preferable because a settlement typically is going to be lower in these instances than taking the case to court. The typical amount that plaintiffs receive when they have settled has been $125,000, while a jury may award those who go to court for a comparable injury $235,000. Malpractice lawsuits are often difficult to win, so patients must be prepared to use everything at their disposal to formulate their cases against the medical professionals who harmed them.

What can help patients see a favorable outcome is to make sure that they enlist the help of an advocate as well as an expert to help establish the strength of their positions. By hiring legal representation most familiar with malpractice cases, a medical malpractice attorney, they increase their chances of winning in court. Some patients reside in a state that sets a limit on the amount of money awarded for malpractice lawsuits, but the state may also be in the process of reviewing these monetary caps.

Settlements have been negotiated without the parties ever appearing in the courtroom. As a result, the injured are receiving awards in large numbers. Settling these lawsuits outside of the courtroom means that there is much less litigation that occurs within the courts because some states allow arbitration in these cases. The added bonus is that the patients are much more likely to receive compensation for their injuries when they agree to settle than if they take their cases to court.

Actual Malpractice Trends

Doctors and insurance companies claim that the justice system is unfairly tilted in the plaintiff’s direction, resulting in unfair malpractice trends. However, hard evidence has shown this is not the case. Throughout the 1990s, payout amounts to injured patients remained stagnant, and even declined from 2001 to 2004. Contrary to what doctors and insurers claim, malpractice settlements and payout amounts have not run rampant in recent years.

Doctor and insurer criticism of the payment amounts to patients also falls flat when looking at other trends as well. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, multi-million dollar payments dropped by more than half, while all other payments matched the level of harm inflicted. The less an individual was injured, the lower their compensation, and vice versa.

However, these downward trends in medical malpractice payout and frequency come as preventable errors in medicine soar. In fact, one in seven Medicare patients experiences a medical error. These preventable errors kill at least 98,000 of patients, injure many more, and cost the health care system $17 to $29 billion annually.

 

Sources:

“20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors.” Patient Fact Sheet.” Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, September 2011. Web. 25 May 2012.
“Five Myths About Medical Negligence.” American Association for Justice, 29 January 2003. Web. 30 May 2012.
“Medical malpractice Payout Trends 1991-2004.” Public Citizen, April 2005. Web. 30 May 2012.
Shapiro, Sidney, et. al. “The Truth About Tort: Defensive Medicine and the Unsupported Case for Medical Malpractice ‘Reform.’” Centers for Progressive Reform, February 2012. Web. 30 May 2012.