What’s More frivolous; Medical Malpractice Claims or the Doctor’s Defenses?

Insurance industry lobbyist continue to pay millions of dollars to portray trial attorneys as evildoers who are directly responsible for high medical insurance rates and driving doctors out of business. Malpractice attorneys respond that they are protecting the rights of those who were wrongly injured and deserve compensation.

Both sides cite a study conducted of 1452 malpractice cases conducted by David M. Studdert, an attorney and health-policy researcher at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, as evidence for their side.

The actual numbers are as follows:

  • 37 cases had no injury, 6 were compensated
  • 515 cases involved injuries but no medical errors, 145 were compensated
  • 889 cases involved injuries and errors, 236 were not compensated

Ideally, we’d want all 889 deserving cases compensated and the 552 undeserving cases thrown out. Clearly, there’s room for improvement. That said, here’s the media’s take on this.

The sympathetic view, argued in this ScienceNews.org article, reports that

The majority of payments from insurance companies went to people who had been harmed by medical errors, not to people with baseless claims, the data show. That suggests that “moves to combat frivolous litigation will have a limited effect on total costs,” the authors say.

The study also found that about 85% of cases were settled out of court and of those that did go to trial, about 80% lost.

That said, the researchers found that 97% of the patients did suffer some type of harm. In about one-third of the cases, the damages weren’t clearly attributable to medical negligence or misdiagnosis and in such cases, most were not compensated.

Among the plaintiffs who received compensation were 6 uninjured people and 145 injured individuals whose injuries had not been convincingly linked to medical error. On the other hand, 236 plaintiffs who did suffer an injury from medical error received no compensation.

“This research shows that the problem with medical-malpractice litigation is not that too many undeserving people get paid, but rather that not enough deserving people get paid,” says Tom Baker, an attorney at the University of Connecticut in Hartford.

Nevertheless, 73 percent of plaintiffs whose claims had merit received compensation, according to the study. That figure suggests that the fact-finding involved in litigation, although expensive and time-consuming, “does a pretty good job of sorting out valid from invalid claims,” says Neil Vidmar, a social psychologist at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

A much less sympathetic view,comes unsurprisingly, from the American Medical Association. This group cites the same study as proof that

a substantial number of meritless claims continue to slip through the cracks, “clogging the courts” and forcing doctors to waste time defending them

Still, like doctors, most trial lawyers don’t want to spend time and effort on groundless cases. Many work off a contingency fee and only get paid if the claim is compensated. They spend hours carefully screening cases and only take cases that have true merit and deserving victims. To them, it doesn’t make sense to bring a frivolous lawsuit that could take upwards of 6 years and thousands of dollars out of their own pocket and not be compensated for their efforts.

If you or a loved one has been harmed as a result of medical malpractice, you may have a claim for damages. For more information, please go to the New Jersey Medical Malpractice Attorneys page.

John R. Mininno, Esq. is a New Jersey and Pennsylvania trial lawyer representing clients in medical malpractice, defective products and other serious injury claims. He also writes about issues concerning patient safety. His offices are in Collingswood, NJ and Philadelphia, PA.

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