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Medical Malpractice Claims: Recent Study

Medical Malpractice Claims: Recent Study

For more information, please contact The Ahearne Law Firm, PLLC at (845) 986-2777 for a free initial consultation and case evaluation.

A recent database study conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that the rate of medical malpractice claims paid on behalf of physicians in the United States declined substantially from 1992 to 2014. The study analyzed data from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), a centralized database of paid malpractice claims that was created by Congress in 1986. Researchers found an overall drop in the amount of paid claims across all specialties, but the extent of the decline was markedly different by specialty.

Researchers report that the overall rate of claims paid on behalf of all physicians dropped by 55.7%. Pediatricians had the largest decline, at 75.8%, and cardiologists had the smallest, at 13.5%. Mean compensation amounts and the percentage of payments exceeding $1 million increased, with wide differences in rates and characteristics across specialties. After adjusting for inflation, the amount of the paid claims increased by 23.3%. Neurosurgery had the highest mean payment, and dermatology had the lowest.

The most common type of allegation underlying all paid claims was an error in diagnosis (31.8%), followed by errors related to surgery (26.9%) and errors related to medication or treatment (24.5%). Thirty-two percent of paid claims were related to a patient death. Pulmonologists were most likely to be involved in a claim that involved a patient death.

The authors of the study noted that a better understanding of the causes of variation among specialties in paid medical malpractice claims may help inform decisions about the approaches needed to improve patient safety and reduce liability.

Medical Malpractice

Each year in the United States, about 440,000 patients die from preventable medical errors. Medical error is the third leading cause of death, behind cancer and heart disease, yet medical malpractice lawsuits account for a mere one-half of one percent of health care costs according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Medical malpractice occurs when a patient is harmed by a doctor or other medical professional who fails to competently perform his or her medical duties. Though the rules about medical malpractice vary from state to state, there are general principles and broad categories of rules that apply to most medical malpractice lawsuits.

Basic Requirements

To prove that medical malpractice occurred, you must be able to show:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed. You must show that you had a physician-patient relationship with the doctor you are suing — this means you hired the doctor and the doctor agreed to be hired.
  • The doctor was negligent. The doctor must have been negligent in connection with your diagnosis or treatment.
  • The doctor’s negligence caused the injury. The patient must show that it is “more likely than not” that the doctor’s incompetence directly caused the injury. Usually, the patient must have a medical expert testify that the doctor’s negligence caused the injury.
  • The injury led to specific damages. Even if it is clear that the doctor performed below the expected standards in his or her field, you cannot sue for malpractice if you did not suffer any harm. Examples of the types of harm patients can sue for include physical pain, mental anguish, additional medical bills and lost work and lost earning capacity.

Types of Medical Malpractice

Most medical malpractice claims fall into one of these categories:

  • Failure to diagnose. If a competent doctor would have discovered the patient’s illness or made a different diagnosis, which in turn would have led to a better outcome than the one actually achieved, then the patient may have a viable medical malpractice claim.
  • Improper treatment. If a doctor treats the patient in a way that no other competent doctor would, the patient could have a medical malpractice claim. It may also be malpractice if the doctor selects the appropriate treatment but administers it incompetently.
  • Failure to warn a patient of known risks.  If a patient, once properly informed of possible risks, would have elected not to go through with the procedure, the doctor may be liable for medical malpractice if the patient is injured by the procedure in a way that the doctor should have warned could happen.

Special Requirements in Medical Malpractice Cases

  • Medical malpractice cases must be brought soon after the injury. In most states, you must bring a medical malpractice claim within the applicable statute of limitations — often between six months and two years, depending on the state.
  • Special medical malpractice review panels. Many states require the patient to first submit the claim to a malpractice review panel. This panel of experts will hear arguments, review evidence and expert testimony, and then decide whether malpractice has occurred.
  • Special notice requirements. Some states require that the patient give the doctor notice of the malpractice claim, in the form of a basic description, before filing a lawsuit.
  • Expert testimony is required.  A qualified expert is usually required at trial. Often, expert testimony or an expert affidavit is required at the malpractice review panel proceedings prior to commencing trial.
  • Limits on damage awards. Many states limit or “cap” the amount of money that can be awarded to a medical malpractice patient

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If you or a family member have suffered injury as a result of negligence by a medical professional, you and/or your family member may be entitled to money damages.

For more information, please contact The Ahearne Law Firm, PLLC at (845) 986-2777 for a free initial consultation and case evaluation.

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