Study: Med-mal cases common, but plaintiffs rarely win

By Kimberly Atkins

Dolan Media Newswires

BOSTON, MA--While most doctors and nearly all surgeons will face at least one medical malpractice claim over the course of their careers, the vast majority of those claims end without any financial payout, according to a new study by the New England Journal of Medicine.

According to the study, 78 percent of all medical malpractice claims fail to result in payments to plaintiffs. The average award of those claims that did result in a payment was $274,887.

Gary M. Paul, a partner in Waters & Kraus' Los Angeles office and president of the trial lawyers' group the American Association for Justice, said the study's findings refute a common premise of tort reform proponents: that medical malpractice claims drive up health care costs.

"Hundreds of thousands of Americans are injured by medical negligence every year and as previous research has shown, the majority of malpractice claims are meritorious," Paul said in a statement. "What this new study tells us is that the supposed wave of malpractice payments is actually a myth that has been built up by the scare tactics of insurance companies and tort reform groups. In reality, not enough is being done to protect patients and ensure justice."

According to the study, physicians in the field of neurosurgery are sued most often, accounting for nearly 20 percent of all medical malpractice suits. About 19 percent of suits were against thoracic-cardiovascular surgeons, and 15 percent against general surgeons.

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Published: Thu, Sep 1, 2011