Frivolous Malpractice Suits Have or Have not Caused an Increase in Health Care Cost to the Average Family


Congruence of the doctor’s treatment and diagnosis of a patient reminds one of an intricate dance, which is too complicated to avoid missteps. A patient can underestimate or overestimate some of his symptoms, so a doctor can initially discount the severity of some symptoms and overcount of others. A patient may also ignore the recommendation of a doctor for medicine or treatment. There are a lot of possible case scenarios, and any of them can lead to a frivolous lawsuit. A frivolous lawsuit is a suit in which any rational observation of medical records shows that there are no factual or legal grounds of doctor’s misstep.

The very first recorded malpractice lawsuit occurred in England in 1374; a surgeon who failed to treat a wound was then called to account. Though, the medical practice has come a long way since that case, there are still many nuances inherent in the healing process, and these nuances sometimes lead to malpractice medical lawsuits (MedMalFacts 2012).

Statistics of Medical Tort Claims

Over the last decades, the average numbers of damages per medical trial have significantly increased. According to the study of the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) of 2011, the average damage compensation in medical negligence lawsuits awarded by a jury grew from $154,000 in 1991 to $291,200 in 2009, so an increment consists of 88.2%. The NPDB also pays attention that on a total level, the aggravated amount of compensations paid by American physicians grew from 2.2 billion of dollars to 4.45 billion of dollars in the course of the same time period. The NPDB further notices that the surgeons have the highest rates of negligence claims that consist of 18.9% for thoracic-cardiovascular surgeons, 19.1% for neurosurgeons, and 15.3% for general surgeons. Moreover, only 3.1% of pediatricians, 5.2% of family medicine physicians , and 2.6% of psychiatrists faced the claims of negligence (Mello 2012).

Medical Malpractice LawsuitsIs not Forcing Doctors to Stop Practicing

One of the most common myths is that frivolous malpractice lawsuits are increasing healthcare costs and forcing the medical professionals to close their practices. The supporters of these myths announced that medical specialists in such high-litigation fields like surgery and obstetrics have to practice under the permanent threat of being served and condemned. They announced that when medical specialists experience a lawsuit or potential threat of lawsuit, they feel that they no longer completely trust their patients. Therefore, it could be a reason that medical professionals treat patients with less confidence, or resort to defensive medicine, in course of which doctors perform medical tests or prescribe medication that are not medically necessary. A lot of doctors are even forced to close their practices because they are disappointed in their profession.

As a matter of fact, according to the New England Journal of Medicine, only one in 14 doctors (in other word 7.14% of all medical professional) are sued annually. The same research also demonstrates that only approximately 20 % of malpractice lawsuits result in a pay-out. Moreover, to the question of closing medical practice, in the past decade, the amount of practicing physicians has steadfast grown and, presently, it is higher than it has ever been. In 2007, a study shows that the amount of physicians increased and reached 307 medical professionals per 100,000 people. As a matter of fact, the increase of 20,000 physicians is observed annually since 2006 (Studdert 2012).

Lawyers Do not Love Frivolous Lawsuit

One more myth is that the plaintiffs, who file frivolous medical malpractice claims, frequently win and get large compensations, so lawyers love the frivolous lawsuits. Moreover, medical malpractice lawyers repudiate 80% or more of the possibilities for representation they have been offered. Another research demonstrates that only one in 30 petitions for representation resulted in lawsuits. Thus, considering these figures, the rejection rate consists of 97 % (Studdert 2012).

Why lawyers do not love medical malpractice lawsuits? First of all, they are expensive. A Lawyer needs to invest thousands of dollars of his / her own money to pay medical authoritative experts while preparing to the lawsuit. If a lawyer loses the case, he or she loses his or her own money with compensation. Because people have a natural propensity to trust and respect medical professionals, doctors usually make very sympathetic and trustworthy defendants. It is obvious that most medical specialists are extremely reluctant to admit their negligence. Medicine is a kind of science where nuances and circumstances play leading role; therefore, to prove the negligence without factual evidence is a highly challenging task.

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Medical Costs Grow Independently

The amount of money spent on medical costs by the U.S. population has grown dramatically, however, the amount of money spent on medical malpractice insurance has not kept tempo. Since 1987, medical charges have grown by 113%, whereas the amount of money spent on medical malpractice insurance has grown by just 52% during the same period of time. Moreover, the amount of medical malpractice damage compensations has remained steadfast since 1991. In course of last ten years, medical malpractice pay-outs have increased an average of 6.2 percent per year, which almost precisely conforms to the level of medical inflation (Mello 2012).

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Are not Frivolous.

According to researches, on average, 97% of medical negligence pretensions have legitimate value. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed more than 1,400 closed medical negligence pretension and found that 97% were justified and meritorious. Moreover, they found that of those 1,400 pretensions, 80% of cases are related to death or other serious injuries. Research concluded unambiguously, and Studdert said “portraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown” (Studdert 2012).

Medical Errors and Medical Malpractice Insurance

The Institute of Medicine defines that the yearly healthcare charges of medical errors in hospitals at 17 to 29 billion of dollars. Meanwhile, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners defines that the entire amount of money spent on medical malpractice insurance consists of 6.4 billion of dollars, which is at least three to five times less than medical insurance malpractice charges (Studdert 2012).


According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the special group of medical experts reviewed 1,452 decided pretensions from several malpractice insurance organizations across the United States. They concentrated on four clinical fields: obstetrics, surgery, missed or postponed diagnosis and medication, fields of medicine that in the aggregate account for approximately 80% of all malpractice pretensions areas in the United States. Authoritative medical specialist in each of observed clinical fields reviewed the pretensions and the relevant medical records to identify whether the plaintiff had sustained damage in course of medical treatment. If damage had occurred, the physicians would have appraised the odds that have been resulted by a medical error. The committee found that most of the reviewed pretensions were related to a treatment-caused injury. More than 90% were caused by a physical injury, which was in most cased severe (80% resulted in essential or entire disability and 26% of cases were with fatal outcome). The committee estimated that 63% of all damages were a result of the medical error. The remaining 37% did not have enough evidence of error, although they did not have evidence to prove otherwise. Most pretensions (72%) that did not have an evident medical error did not receive any compensation. In the cases (38%) when plaintiffs received compensations, the compensations were lower, on average, than the compensations for pretensions that did involve an evident medical error (313,205 versus 521,560 of dollars). Among pretensions that involved an evident medical error, 73% obtained compensation. Therefore, totally, the malpractice lawsuits practice system appeared to be justified approximately three quarters of the time. Of course, it is not a perfect record, but it is not as bad as many people think, especially considering that issue of identifying the medical error or negligence could be very complicated. The 27% of lawsuits with outcomes that did not correspond to their value included pretensions that remained unpaid, even though the damage was caused by an evident medical error consist of 16%; pretensions, which were paid, but did not involve an evident medical error consist of 10%; and pretentions that were paid but did not appear to be a treatment-related damage (0.4%) (Mello 2012).

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According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the entire amount of money spent on defending medical malpractice pretensions and compensating damages consists of 7.1 billion of dollars, which is just 0.3 percent of America’s 2.2 trillion of dollar costs for healthcare spending generally. Hence, medical negligence compensation accounts for only 0.3 percent of national healthcare costs (Studdert 2012).

Therefore, considering 0.3 % of healthcare spending for compensation, and that 97% of malpractice suits have merit; it is obvious that frivolous malpractice suits have not been responsible for an increasing of healthcare cost not only within the average American family, but within any American family.

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