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Medical Malpractice Claims Decrease While Injuries & Compensation Increase

Medical malpractice lawsuits are filed when a patient alleges that a medical professional caused some type of injury or even death during or after a medical procedure. Doctors, nurses, dentists, chiropractors, physical therapists, and other medical professionals may all be named as defendants in medical malpractice cases. If the injured patient is able to prove how the medical professional’s negligence directly contributed to the injury, the patient may prevail in the claim.

Medical errors are currently the third leading cause of death in the United States. Oddly, the rate of paid medical malpractice claims declined by 56 percent between 1992 and 2014. However, medical malpractice payout amounts have actually increased by roughly 23 percent since 1992. From 1992 – 1996, the average payout for a medical malpractice claim was about $287,000. From 2009 – 2014, the payout was approximately $353,000. Opposing trends have been observed—more patients are being injured by medical professionals, but fewer patients are being compensated. For those who do recover, the extent of the compensation has increased modestly.

According to Dr. Adam Schaffer, a professor at Harvard Medical School, tort reform may have something to do with the increase in the size of the payouts. There are a number of hurdles that medical malpractice cases face before they may proceed in court, including caps on recoverable damages and finding an attorney to take the case. These hurdles ensure that only legitimate claims move forward. Unfortunately, however, they also throw the baby out with the bathwater. Very legitimate cases of medical negligence often are not pursued, even though the negligence is clear. This is especially so where the victim is retired or a homemaker. Such individuals have no lost wages and their pain and suffering is “capped” by tort reform measures. As a result, it can be economically difficult to represent such people, even when it is clear they were injured from medical negligence. As “smaller” cases dwindle due to “economics,” the average payout goes up. That just makes sense: smaller cases aren’t filed, leaving only “bigger” cases; hence the increase in average payout.

Schaffer and his colleagues studied medical malpractice trends. Using the National Practitioner Data Bank, which tracks payments in these claims, they noted that there were more than 280,000 paid claims from 2009 – 2014. About 8 percent, or 22,400, of those claims were paid more than $1 million. Close to a third of the claims involved a patient death.

When examining the claims, the authors reported that the most common complaint was diagnostic error. Frighteningly, death was the most common consequence listed in these claims. In adults, the most commonly missed diagnoses were cancer and heart attacks. Appendicitis, ectopic pregnancies, and bone fractures were also commonly missed. In children, cancers and meningitis were common missed diagnoses.

Another disturbing trend the authors discovered was that the top 1 percent of physicians with the most claims were responsible for roughly 8 percent of all claims. Schaffer commented, “The people with the most paid claims have a disproportionately large number of paid claims. We can’t say why that is. You may have neurosurgeons who do run-of-the-mill back surgeries, and then you have some neurosurgeons who do high-risk intracerebral aneurysms.” Some specialties are simply higher risk than others. Another possible explanation, of course, is that there are really some very bad doctors out there, and they repeatedly injure people through their carelessness.

Despite the difficulty of bringing medical negligence claims, such suits remain the only method for injured patients to recoup their losses after a medical professional causes them harm. With the assistance of an experienced medical malpractice attorney, plaintiffs with valid claims are more likely to prevail in medical malpractice cases. Medical malpractice attorneys understand how to present evidence to ensure the numerous hurdles in these claims are overcome.

Were you injured by a medical professional? If so, contact our Ohio medical malpractice attorneys for help

If you were injured by a physician, nurse, or other medical professional, you need to speak with an experienced medical negligence attorney who understands the link between your injuries and medical malpractice laws. At The Eisen Law Firm, our Ohio medical malpractice attorneys focus exclusively on medical malpractice and negligence claims and have obtained many impressive verdicts and settlements. To schedule your free consultation, call 216-687-0900 or contact us online today.