A recent study of medical malpractice jury verdicts and settlements shows that Pennsylvania is the state with the second-highest dollar amount for medical malpractice payouts. As a Pennsylvania medical negligence lawyer, I help injured families sue for these payouts--an umbrella term for jury verdicts or (more likely) out-of-court settlements. The study, which came from medical malpractice insurer Diederich Healthcare and was reported in The Clinical Advisor, also looked at overall medical malpractice payout amounts, the type of injury that led to a verdict or settlement, the type of patient who was injured and the severity of the injury. The data comes from 2012 entries to the National Practitioner Data Bank, a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The insurance company presented its data in graphic form, though the entire graphic was not typically included in media reports. Overall, $3.6 billion was paid out for medical malpractice claims in 2012, for a total of 12,142 lawsuits. Interestingly, the data shows that medical malpractice payouts have declined steadily since 2003, after a sharp rise between 1998 and 2001. Pennsylvania and New Jersey were two of the five states that represented nearly half (48 percent) of the amount of payouts; the others were Florida (number five), California (three) and New York (one). The vast majority of the payouts, 93 percent, came as settlements; any lawsuit is statistically most likely to be settled. And by far the most common injury in these cases was death, at 31 percent of cases; this was followed by significant (19 percent) and major (18 percent) permanent injuries, then quadriplegia, brain damage or other lifelong care injuries (12 percent).
Though this graphic was put out by a malpractice insurer with a financial incentive to portray medical malpractice lawsuits as frivolous, some of the data actually shows they're not. For example, the proportion of injuries that were categorized as minor and temporary; insignificant; or only emotional totaled 4.4 percent, suggesting that the claims were rarely frivolous. The steadily falling total amount of payouts suggests that if there was ever a malpractice costs crisis, it has been or is being resolved. The very high proportion of settlements suggests that high awards do not generally come from "runaway juries." And the fact that just five states represent half of all payouts suggests that there's no nationwide malpractice problem. Indeed, all of the top five states are high-population states. Pennsylvania may have a higher dollar amount not because we have any special malpractice crisis, but because we have a higher number of people.
I've written here many times about the dangers of calls for medical malpractice "reform." These are typically supported by insurance companies that don't want to pay injured people's claims. Unfortunately, their effect is to keep the most seriously injured victims from being able to claim fair compensation, via damages caps or complex requirements when filing a claim. As a Pennsylvania birth injury lawyer, I believe this data shows that rumors of crisis are greatly exaggerated.