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  • The Myths about Medical Malpractice Cases

    By Debra A Jensen, Esq.

    It’s all over the news: stories about how insurance companies, hospitals and doctors are being injured by medical malpractice litigation.  People are asked to believe that medical malpractice verdicts pay uninjured people millions of dollars they don’t deserve and that they receive “jackpot justice” for bringing lawsuits against doctors or hospitals.

    A recent article by authors David A. Hyman, MD, JD and Charles Silver, JD listed what they called the “Five Myths of Medical Malpractice.”  (Hyman and Silver, “Five Myths of Medical Malpractice,” Chest 2013; 143(1): 222-227).  The myths are:

    • Malpractice crises are caused by spikes in medical malpractice litigation
    • The tort system delivers “jackpot justice.”
    • Physicians are one malpractice verdict away from bankruptcy.
    • Physicians move to states that adopt damages caps.
    • Tort reform will lower health-care spending dramatically.

    The authors examined these myths closely and concluded that they are, in fact, MYTHS.   And they explained why.  Here’s what they have to say about the Five Myths:

    •  Myth:  Malpractice crises are caused by spikes in medical malpractice litigation.  Truth:  Medical malpractice claim payments have been dropping steadily since 1992 and are now less than one-half the level they were in that year.  Outlandish jury verdicts are not representative of the average payments in most cases.  The overwhelming majority of cases (more than 95%) are settled before trial and not in the amounts of the few, publicized cases that we read about in the paper.
    • Myth:  The Tort system delivers “jackpot justice.”  Truth:  Studies show that the liability system does a pretty good job of compensating injured patients and not compensating uninjured patients.  In fact, many patients who are injured by medical negligence never bring claims.  Payments do increase with injury severity but even with that increase, the average payments rarely rise to a “jackpot” level.  For example, in Illinois, the average payment in a medical malpractice case is just slightly over $450,000.  For a person who is suffering a permanent injury and may never be able to work again, that does not sound like a jackpot to this author.
    • Myth:  Physicians are one malpractice verdict away from bankruptcy.  Truth:  Out-of-pocket payments by physicians are extremely rare.  Settlements and verdicts are paid by insurance and not from a physician’s personal savings.  The only physicians who should be concerned about personal exposure are the ones without insurance.
    • Myth:  Physicians move in large numbers to states that adopt damages caps.  Truth:  Damages caps play only a small role in physicians relocating.  To quote Dr. Hyman and Mr. Silver, “..although damages caps may play a small role in attracting and keeping physicians practicing in rural areas and in high-risk specialties, the evidence is mixed and some studies have found no effect.”
    • Myth: Tort reform will lower health-care spending dramatically.  Truth:  The Congressional Budget Office found no evidence that restrictions on tort liability reduce medical spending.”  Translation:  Even with damages caps on medical malpractice cases, there is no significant change in health-care spending.

    The myth-busting article of Dr. Hyman and Mr. Silver also contains some important truths about the medical malpractice system, which we all should know.  The medical malpractice system is very slow and most cases take approximately four years from injury to completion.  The system is also expensive and costs are growing.  One of the reasons for this is strict limitations on who can serve as an expert.  Expert supplies are decreased and costs go up.  Another truth is that the medical malpractice system is thought to be unfair and unpleasant.  Doctors resent being brought into the system and patients have difficulty finding medical malpractice lawyers to help them.

    A final truth is that damages caps don’t help the system.  They do not make health-care safer, they don’t reduce health-care spending and they don’t make the system work better.  The authors conclude that the best way to reform the system is to improve patient safety and reduce the frequency and severity of medical mistakes.

    Galfand Berger Personal Injury Lawyers Fight for Victims of Medical Malpractice

    As advocates for victims of personal injury, Galfand Berger medical malpractice lawyers have seen firsthand the devastation that a medical mistake can have on a patient and their family. If you or someone you love has suffered an injury due to the negligence of a healthcare provider, we encourage you to consult with one of our experienced medical malpractice lawyers who will protect your rights and fight to secure for you the maximum compensation for your injuries.

    Our offices are conveniently located in Philadelphia, Reading, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Call Galfand Berger today at 1-800-222-8792 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawyer or contact us online.

    1-800-222-USWA (8792)