What Statistics Can Tell Us About Medical Malpractice

After years of decline, medical malpractice payouts are rising again. Verdicts and settlements are up, with more patients finding the ongoing support they need to recover. Here’s a rundown of how much compensation injured patients are securing, where high-value settlements are being won and which types of malpractice garner the most.

For Second Year In A Row, More Patients Are Winning More Money

Using records from the National Practitioner Data Bank, an information clearinghouse run by the US Department of Health & Human Services, Diederich HealthCare ran an analysis of medical malpractice payouts in 2014. Their first conclusion? Patients, for the second year in a row, are winning more than they used to.

In 2014, malpractice insurance companies compensated injured patients to the tune of $3,891,743,050 (that’s billions), 4.4% more than the total compensation secured in 2013. These recent increases, tremendous for the lives of patients harmed by negligent doctors, represent a significant reverse in historical trends. Before 2012, the annual total payouts had been decreasing for almost 10 years. In 2003, patients won more than $4.7 billion. By 2012, the total had dropped to around $3.65 million, before surging upwards again.

How You Get Hurt Can Be Crucial

Malpractice insurers made the the lion’s share of their 2014 payouts for diagnostic errors, with 33% of the total compensating patients who had been misdiagnosed or diagnosed with a condition late. That proportion has held steady for a number of years, according to data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, suggesting that misdiagnosis (particularly common in the case of cancer) remains a devastating problem for America’s healthcare system.

Surgical errors came in 2nd, representing 24% of all the malpractice payouts made in 2014. Mistakes in deciding on an appropriate treatment method, or incorrectly administering therapies, saw the 3rd most payouts at 19%.

Together, misdiagnosis, surgical errors and treatment mistakes made up 76% of 2014’s medical malpractice claims. That’s not to say that mistakes falling outside those 3 categories won’t result in viable medical malpractice claims, but it illustrates how courts and insurers view different types of negligence in varying lights.

Harm Matters: Severe Injuries Secure More Compensation

As you’d expect, the severity of a patient’s injury is tied to the likelihood of receiving compensation. 30% of the claims that resulted in compensation involved a patient’s death, while 35% related to significant or major permanent injuries.

While only 19% of the claims involved quadriplegia or brain damage requiring lifelong care, those payouts were the largest, with an average of $944,664 in compensation. Wrongful death claims, on the other hand, resolved in significantly smaller settlements, for an average of $355,231.

Top 10 States Protecting Patient Rights

As in any legal domain, some states are “friendlier” to patients, while others appear to favor physicians in their malpractice decisions. Here are the top 10 states in terms of total medical malpractice claims paid out in 2014:

  1. New York – $300 million or more
  2. Pennsylvania – $300 million or more
  3. California – $100 million or more
  4. Texas – $100 million or more
  5. Illinois – $100 million or more
  6. Georgia – $100 million or more
  7. Florida – $100 million or more
  8. Massachusetts – $100 million or more
  9. Maryland – $100 million or more
  10. New Jersey – $100 million or more

Coming in at the low-end were a cluster of Mid-Western and Western States. Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, Nebraska and Mississippi all saw payouts totaling less than $20 million in 2014. That’s not much of a surprise, given their largely conservative constituencies. Vermont, New Hampshire and tiny Delaware round out the list of states with the lowest malpractice numbers.

Are Medical Malpractice Claims Hurting America?

Medical malpractice has always been a contentious issue in America, with critics calling for sweeping “tort reform” to reduce the burden on physicians and insurance costs. Tort reform, however, measures like reducing the amount of time patients have to file their lawsuits or capping the total amount of compensation they can receive, doesn’t seem to work very well.

Shortening statutes of limitation has actually led to more doctors being sued, as injured patients, terrified of losing their rights, file claims against every conceivable doctor who could have caused their injuries. Insurance premiums, for that matter, rise faster in states that pass tort reform than ones that don’t, according to an analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. For all the bluster, medical malpractice lawsuits don’t seem to be the problem.

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