2018 Medical Malpractice Statistics

Medical Malpractice There is a popular belief that medical malpractice lawsuits are filed excessively by overly aggressive lawyers. There is also a common perception in 2018 that medical malpractice litigation is mostly frivolous and its proliferation does nothing but drive up health care costs. A number of 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.

In 2016 researchers from Johns Hopkins Hospital published the results of a comprehensive study on medical errors which estimated that medical errors result in 250,000 deaths each year. The Hopkins study was published May 3, 2016 in The BMJ. 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 each year at 200,000. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has offered a more conservative estimate of 98,000 deaths per year due to medical negligence.

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, in 2013 the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) reported only 3,046 medical malpractice payments were made for wrongful death claims. Even if you use the conservative estimates, it's 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.

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, 1 in 5 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 3 most commonly report types of medical error in the survey. 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)

The Frequency of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits & Claims is Low

Despite all the negative attention, medical malpractice lawsuits account for a very small percentage of personal injury litigation. Civil case data for 2016 published by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) confirms 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.

A 2017 report on insurance claims showed that 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%.

Reported Malpractice Verdicts & Settlements in 2017

In 2017 there were a total of 41 medical malpractice verdicts or settlements reported by the Associated Press. 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 3 most common types of malpractice involved in these 41 cases was: diagnostic failure; birth-injury and treatment failure.

  • Diagnostic Failure: 11 of the nationally reported verdicts & settlements were based on allegations of failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis. There were 8 verdicts and 3 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 2 settlements and 6 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.

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