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Malpractice Statistics

According to the Institute of Medicine, preventable medical errors are responsible for killing up to 98,000 Americans each year, and injuring many more. The American Association for Justice stated that if the Centers for Disease Control were to include preventable medical errors as a category, then it would be the sixth leading cause of death in the nation. Despite the vast number of medical errors, a very small percentage of injured patients file a medical malpractice lawsuit, and even fewer injured patients file frivolous claims. According to research, claims where there was no error made are rarely paid, yet the reverse is a far bigger problem, where errors are never compensated.

A recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), has reported that over 225,000 people die each year due to medical errors. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the country, behind heart disease and cancer. The most frequently occurring errors are these:

  • 12,000 deaths/year from unnecessary surgery
  • 7,000 deaths/year from medication errors in hospitals
  • 20,000 deaths/year from other errors in hospitals
  • 80,000 deaths/year from infections received in hospitals
  • 106,000 deaths/year from non-error, adverse effects of medication

The National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) reports that the average payment to a medical malpractice victim in 2000 was only $125,000.

In all medical malpractice cases, the number of final verdicts that favor injured plaintiffs accounts for just 4% of medical malpractice cases.

According to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDP), a mere 5% of U.S. doctors are found responsible for as many as 54% of all medical malpractice.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) reports that medical malpractice insurance costs amount to approximately 3.2% of the average doctor’s revenues. Also, independent economists for MedPAC reported that insurance premiums rose in 2002 by a mere 4.4%.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, each year 2,000,000 patients incur infections that lead to 90,000 fatalities.

The National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) recently reported that there are around 5,000 physicians that have paid four or more medical malpractice judgments or settlements since 1990.

Once a physician has paid four medical malpractice awards, the physician only has a 15% chance of facing penalties or repercussions. What’s more, those physicians that have paid ten or more settlements are only disciplined at a rate of 40%.

Less than 1% of doctors that have made malpractice payments from receiving federal dollars have been sanctioned by the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Each year, the cost of medical errors in hospitals costs society from $17 to $29 billion dollars.

One 1990 Harvard study found that only one in eight preventable medical errors made in New York hospitals results in a medical malpractice claim.

In the years 1996 through 1999, there were 19,885 reported Florida hospital incidents, yet only 3,177 medical malpractice claims were filed; therefore, for every six medical errors, only one malpractice claim was filed.

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, medical malpractice claims declined by 4% between the years 1995 and 2000, with 90, 212 claims being filed in 1995 and 86,480 claims filed in 2000.

In 1996, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that punitive damages were awarded in less than 1% of malpractice cases.

Since 1987, medical costs have increased by 113%, yet the total amount spent on malpractice insurance has only increased by 52% over the same time period, which is less than half of the rising cost of medical services.

Since 1991, the median damage awards have remained rather constant with the mean payout averaging $135,941 in 2001, up 8.7% from $125,000 in 2001.

Over a period of ten years, malpractice payouts have grown approximately 6.2% each year, which is almost identical to the rate of medical inflation, which averaged 6.7% from 1990 to 2001.

In 2001, out of 16,676 payouts, only 895 or 5% topped the $1 million mark. (National Practitioner Data Bank, as quoted by Business Week, March 3, 2003)

Of all medical malpractice payouts, only 5% or 1 out of 20 are responsible for 54% of the malpractice payouts. (National Practitioner Data Bank, Sept. 1, 1990 – Sept 30, 2002)

Only 1 out of 6 doctors who made 5 or more malpractice payouts were disciplined by their state medical board. (NPDB)

Between 1997 and 2000, the average malpractice payment rose by an average of 8.5% a year, whereas the average premium for single health insurance coverage increased by 9.5% over that period of time.

On November 15, 2003, the insurance industry data and analysis released revealed that the average medical malpractice payout came to a mere $28,524 over the previous decade. That figure represented small jury verdicts, settlements and other costs that were used by insurers to fight claims.

Of all medical malpractice claims, insurers are paying nothing in 77% of those claims, and in the 23% of cases where insurers pay something, the average claim is amounts to just $107,587 dollars.

One Harvard Medical Malpractice Study revealed that just one in eight malpractice victims ever file a medical malpractice claim for compensation.

For the last decade, average payouts have remained at a low threshold, averaging just $30,000.

Of the total national health care expenditures, medical malpractice costs account for just 0.55%, which is an all-time low.

Of all medical malpractice victims, one in eight actually files a malpractice claim, one in sixteen files for compensation, and just one in thirty-two win a jury verdict.

In the last five years, there hasn’t been a change in the number of medical malpractice cases. Of all cases that go to court, only 23% of the injured plaintiffs win before juries, and only 1.1% of the malpractice plaintiffs that win at trial are awarded punitive damages.

In a 2003 U.S. Government Accountability Office report, from 1996 to 2000, the average per capita payments were $10 for states with noneconomic damage caps as compared to $17 for states that had limited reforms.

In the state of Nevada, it adopted a $350,000 cap in 2002, the state found that only two doctors were responsible for $14 million of the $22 million dollars in claims that were awarded in one year, and both doctors are still in practice.

According to the National Center for State Courts, in Florida, malpractice claims rose just 3.7% from 1997 to 2000.

One out of five Americans report having a family member who experienced some sort of medical error, amounting to 22% of Americans. This figure translates to 22.8 million Americans having at least one family member who was the victim of a medical mistake. (The Commonwealth Fund, 2002)

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in American hospitals alone, hospital-acquired infections account for approximately 1.7 million infections and 99,000 deaths each year.

From 2000 to 2002, one out of every four Medicare patients who were hospitalized and who suffered a patient-safety incident was killed. (HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study)

According to the Institute of Medicine, as many as 98,000 people die in American hospitals every year as a result of preventable medical errors.

For patients who are admitted to U.S. acute-care hospitals, from 5 to 10% of those patients acquire one or more infections while there, and the risks have only increased in recent decades. (The New England Journal of Medicine, 2003 article)

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