Defendants in medical malpractice lawsuits have long decried the “high” payouts that sometimes result in cases of egregious negligence or error resulting in serious injury or death.
Our Queens medical malpractice attorneys know it’s been a common refrain in the push for tort reform and damage caps, as defendants seek to limit their own liability. In order to get the pubic on board with these measures, they claim that these payouts in “frivolous” lawsuits are the reason medical costs are so high. And who wants to pay higher medical costs?
However, a recent data analysis conducted by researchers as Johns Hopkins reveals that those claims fall flat. Medical malpractice claims aren’t even close to being the top drain on health care resources.
The study focused on the effect of medical malpractice payouts of $1 million or more from 2004 through 2010. Although national information on malpractice claims dates back to 1986, the age and gender of patients, as well as severity of injury, didn’t become available until 2004.
In all, those payments totaled about $1.4 billion annually. That sounds like a lot at first glance, until you consider that it’s actually way less than 1 percent of the total amount of medical expenditures nationally.
What’s more, the study’s chief author, Dr. Marty Makary, who serves as an associate professor of surgery and health policy at the esteemed Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, reported in the most recent issue of Journal of Healthcare Quality that the notion that these claims are regularly resulting the health industry flushing $100 million at a time is just wrong.
In fact, the true problem is that doctors are performing an unprecedented amount of medical tests and even surgeries that aren’t medically necessary or appropriate. This is happening for several reasons. One is that they fear they could be sued if they don’t order them, as they might miss a diagnosis. The other is that doctors and hospitals are paid for each test and procedure.
Payouts of $1 million or more – something called “catastrophic claims” – are most often awarded in cases where the victim who is injured or killed is under the age of 1, or when he or she has suffered some type of serious, long-lasting injury such as brain damage, quadriplegia or other condition that will require lifelong medical care. The only exception to this was claims of malpractice from anesthesia, though it’s worth noting that anesthesia errors often do result in fatalities or major complications.
Throughout the research period, about 78,000 medical malpractice claims were paid out. Of those, about 8 percent were for catastrophic injuries, amounting to a total of about 6,100 of the payouts. The seven-year tally for these claims was about $10 billion, representing about 36 percent of the total $27 billion paid out in malpractice claims during that time.
The most commonly successful malpractice claims were for:
- Diagnosis errors (34 percent);
- Obstetrics errors (22 percent);
- Surgery errors (18 percent).
Analysts say the results indicated that legal reform – at least in the context it’s been promoted in recent years – isn’t as critical as defendants would have you believe. Instead, public health and the health care industry would be better served by reducing the number of unnecessary medical procedures that doctors perform each year.
The Queens Law Offices of Nicholas Rose, PLLC offers free consultations. Call 1-877-313-7673.
Medical Malpractice Payouts Not Driving Up Health Costs: Study, May 20, 2013, Staff Report, Insurance Journal
More Blog Entries:
NYC Malpractice Watch: Unnecessary Medical Procedures Put Patients at Risk, May 30, 2013, Queens Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog