2021 Medical Malpractice Statistics

Medical Malpractice There is a popular belief that medical malpractice lawsuits are filed excessively by overly aggressive lawyers.  Medical malpractice statistics and common sense tell us this is an economic impossibility. 

There is also a common perception in 2021 that medical malpractice litigation is mostly frivolous and its proliferation does nothing but drive up health care costs. Recent studies suggest that neither of these beliefs are based on reality. 

We have a public health crisis on our hands that no one is bothering to pay attention to that kills an unbelievable number of us every year. None of us are free from this risk.

Medical Malpractice Ranks as Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Hospital published the results of a comprehensive study on medical errors. This study estimated that medical errors result in 250,000 deaths each year. 

This estimate ranks medical malpractice as the third leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer. A prior study done in 2009 estimated the number of medical error fatalities per year at 200,000. 

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has offered a more the now antiquated statistic of 98,000 deaths per year due to medical negligence.  That number was so shocking when it came out 10 years ago.  Now the statistics show we have twice the amount of deaths from malpractice than we thought.  Yet no one really blinks an eye.  The story goes on page 5 of your local newspaper.  And then it is gone. 

For those of you that have colder hearts for human suffering, there is an economic cost too. A 2021 study underscores that medical errors bruises our economy to the tune of $20 billion a year. 

Malpractice Lawsuits Still Relatively Low Given the Statistics 

A large percentage of these 250,000 annual fatalities would undoubtedly be actionable as medical malpractice. But the number of medical malpractice wrongful death lawsuits filed each year doesn't come close to this number. 

For instance, the National Practitioner Database not too long ago reported only 3,046 medical malpractice payments were made for wrongful death claims. Even if you use the conservative estimates, it is clear that only about 5% of deaths caused by medical error result in malpractice payouts. 

The reason for this is simple. Most incidents of medical malpractice never become the subject of a lawsuit or claim. In sharp contrast to the public image of excessive malpractice suits, the fact is that medical malpractice is actually under-litigated.

So despite all the negative attention, medical malpractice lawsuits account for a very small percentage of personal injury litigation.  Malpractice statistics published by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) confirm that medical malpractice accounts for less than 5% of all personal injury cases pending nationwide. These statistics make it clear that there is no plague of excessive medical malpractice litigation.

2017 report on insurance claims showed that the comparative rate of payments on medical malpractice claims is also on the decline. From 2009 to 2014 the rate of malpractice claims paid fell by 55%.

More Malpractice Frequency Statistics

A survey on medical error released in 2017 by the IHI/NPSF Lucian Leape Institute and NORC at the University of Chicago found that 41% of people in the U.S. believed a medical error was made in their care. 

In other words, one in five people believe that they may have been subject to some form of medical malpractice in the past. Diagnostic failure, surgical error, and medication errors were the three most commonly report types of medical error in the survey.  

A 2020 study shows that high medical mistakes with serious consequences are most likely to occur in intensive care units, operating rooms, and emergency departments. 

Of those reporting that they experienced medical error - 73% indicated that were actually injured by the error. This data clearly indicates that possibly millions of people are injured by medical negligence every year, but very few of them ever become plaintiffs in a malpractice case. 

Another study by Johns Hopkins in 2013 estimated that only 1% of all adverse medical incidents eventually result in malpractice claims or lawsuits. Measuring Diagnostic Errors in Primary Care (JAMA 2013)

More Medical Malpractice Statistics

  • 20,000 malpractice lawsuits filed every year in the U.S (July 25, 2021).
  • National statistics show 1.8% of doctors account for more than half - half! - of all malpractice payments (January 5, 2021).
  • A medical diagnosis by an Australian doctor is incorrect one in seven times (September 1, 2020).

Big Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Get the Attention in 2021

The media reports on large malpractice settlements and verdicts.  These are the larger or more notable malpractice verdicts and settlements for the year and are not representative of all malpractice payments or claims. Thousands of malpractice claims are settled out of court and still more that do make it to court are settled without reporting. 

A review of the 41 nationally reported settlements and verdicts is still informative. The three most common types of malpractice involved in these 41 cases was diagnostic failure, birth injury, and treatment failure.

  • Diagnostic Failure: Eleven of the nationally reported verdicts and settlements were based on allegations of failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis. There were eight verdicts and three settlements and total damages of $220 million were awarded for an average of $20 million per case.

  • Birth Injury: Nationally reported birth-injury cases included two settlements and six verdicts. The claims in these cases were typical birth-injury errors (excessive force with forceps; delay in C-section, etc.) but with particularly severe injuries.

Contact Us About Malpractice

If you would like to learn more about medical malpractice litigation or think you might have a malpractice claim, call Miller & Zois at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.

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