Study Examines High Percentage of Dropped Medical Malpractice Claims

Most medical malpractice lawsuits are not settled or decided by trial. They are abandoned by the patients and family members who brought them. A study in the medical journal Health Affairs reviewed the outcome of 3,695 malpractice claims filed in Massachusetts between 2006 and 2010, The Boston Globe reports.

Nearly 60% of the lawsuits filed against hospitals, doctors and other medical providers were abandoned. Twenty-six percent were settled, and a mere 15% went to trial. The journal concluded that “claims are not dropped because a large percentage of them are frivolous, but for other reasons.”

According to the malpractice attorneys interviewed by researchers, plaintiffs most often drop lawsuits because, after learning more about the medical procedure that went wrong, they conclude their case is weaker than they imagined.

The study recommends that that hospitals and insurance companies adopt policies to encourage lawyers on both sides to exchange information more quickly and discuss cases more openly. “Such reforms would greatly reduce both the frequency and the duration of cases that are dropped,” read the journal report, “and thus the cost of malpractice litigation.”

Another thing that might help, from this lawyer’s experience, is for hospitals to talk more candidly with patients and their families when the patient winds up worse off for the hospital experience. Many patients come to legal advocates like me to investigate a potential malpractice suit because they are first bewildered at what happened, then suspicious when the doctors and nurses won’t talk to them. We have to do extensive investigations to get to the bottom of events, and sometimes — although not nearly as often as seemed to happen with the lawsuits in this study — we discover that the care was acceptable but it was just a tragic outcome.

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