Report Debunks Many Ideas Blamed on Medical Malpractice Litigation

In a report issued this month by Public Citizen, the nonprofit that lobbies on behalf of consumer interests, the idea that medical malpractice lawsuits are responsible for a range of social and medical ills has been disproved. Again.

The clunkily titled report, “No Correlation-Continued Decrease in Medical Malpractice Payments Debunks Theory That Litigation Is to Blame for Soaring Medical Costs,” recalls how, 10 years ago, medical malpractice payments were the highest they’d been since tracking of that information started in 1990. Some people blamed malpractice lawsuits for the huge rise in health-care costs as well as for the large numbers of people who don’t have health insurance. That spawned a lot of legislative activity to limit the amounts injured patients could receive (known as capped damages) as a solution to the problems.

As we have regularly written, the problems weren’t caused by medical malpractice litigation, and the “solution” is a fantasy of ignorance, mean-spiritedness and political expedience that further victimizes people who suffered harm.

As the Public Citizen report notes, federal legislation imposing restrictions on medical malpractice litigation has not passed, although damages have been capped in most states. “But the chief objective,” according to the report, “of those seeking restrictions-namely reducing litigation and malpractice payments-has been realized.”

Since 2003, both the frequency of medical malpractice payments on behalf of doctors and the amount of awards made to patients have fallen every year. Last year, the number of payments fell to the lowest level on record, and it was the third consecutive year that the total value of malpractice payments fell to their lowest level on record.

But willful ignorance endures. Last week, a study published in Health Affairs that was discussed on MedPageToday.com concluded that physicians who reported a high level of concern about medical malpractice lawsuits were more likely to practice defensive medicine. That means they order lots of diagnostic tests that probably aren’t necessary simply to protect against charges that they overlooked something. As we’ve noted, that’s the cause of inflated costs and additional risk of medical harm, not litigation.

The authors of the Health Affairs study encouraged policymakers to enlighten clinicians about certain facts including:

  • Physicians greatly overestimate the risk of being sued.
  • Only about 1 in 50 injuries caused by negligence result in a claim.
  • Lawsuits are almost never settled for amounts in excess of a physician’s insurance policy.
  • Malpractice plaintiffs lose 4 out of 5 trials.

And after noting these seven facts enumerated in the report, we are left speechless trying to explain why misinformation and bald-faced lies continue to proliferate and be embraced by people who should know better.

1. The number of malpractice payments on behalf of doctors in 2012 was the lowest on record.

2. The inflation-adjusted total value of payments made on behalf of doctors in 2012 was the lowest on record.

3. Medical malpractice payments’ share of the nation’s total health-care bill was the lowest on record in 2012.

4. Total costs for medical malpractice litigation, as measured by liability insurance premiums paid by doctors and hospitals, were the lowest in 2012 since 2003 (the earliest year for which Public Citizen as able to obtain the relevant data).

5. Four out of five medical malpractice decisions compensate for death, catastrophic harms or serious permanent injuries.

6. Declines in litigation do not translate into lower costs for consumers.

7. There is no evidence that the decline in medical malpractice payments is due to safer medical care.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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