Researchers Find Fewer – But Higher – Payouts in Medical Malpractice Cases

May 17, 2017

Researchers at Harvard University found that between 1992 and 2014, the number of payouts in medical malpractice cases dropped by 56 percent. But the average dollar value of payouts between 2009 and 2014 was $353,000 – about 23 percent higher than the average payout of $287,000 between 1992 and 1996.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in Pennsylvania, juries issued 101 medical malpractice verdicts in 2015, with 78.2 percent of those verdicts in favor of medical providers. In 2004, juries issued 449 medical malpractice verdicts, and 78.4 percent of those verdicts favored medical providers. So, while the verdict outcome was virtually the same between 2004 and 2015, the number of cases that actually reached a courtroom dropped significantly.

Explaining the Decrease in Med Mal Court Cases

John Krah, executive director of the Allegheny County Medical Society, was interviewed for the Post-Gazette story. He said that in 2004, lawyers could try med mal cases in any court, and many lawyers found that courts in Philadelphia were more likely to deliver a favorable outcome for their injured clients. But a change in state law now requires a med mal case to be filed in the county where it occurred, and a medical professional must sign a certificate of merit, affirming that the claim of malpractice is legitimate. As a result, fewer cases are getting to the courtroom.

The Impact on Doctors

Pennsylvania’s Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (Mcare) Fund helps compensate patients who are harmed by a health care provider’s negligence. Under state law, doctors and hospitals must carry at least $1 million in medical liability coverage. Half of that coverage is provided through Mcare, and instead of paying annual premiums, healthcare providers contribute to the fund via assessments, which are based on the number and cost of medical malpractice claims. So, even doctors with perfect, error-free records could end up paying a lot more in assessments if in the previous calendar year courts delivered several multi-million dollar verdicts in favor of plaintiffs.

The Impact on Patients

Public Citizen, a consumer-rights group based in Washington, D.C., estimates that between one-in-four and one-in-seven patients suffers an injury or wrongful death, due to medical error. If that’s true – and given the decline in med mal verdicts in recent years – it would seem that the justice system is not serving patients well or that patients are not pursuing medical malpractice claims, even when they may be entitled to compensation.

Another Piece of the Puzzle

One factor that is rarely discussed in coverage of med mal verdicts is the number of cases that are settled out of court. Often, such cases may result in a lower payout for the victim, but both the victim and healthcare provider may prefer to settle, rather than engage in a lengthy legal battle. Some med mal cases that end up in front of a jury may drag on for up to five years.

If you’ve suffered an injury because of a healthcare provider’s negligence, talk to one of the personal injury attorneys at Wapner Newman. For almost 40 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today by calling 1-800-529-6600 or by filling out a free case evaluation form.