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Medical Liability Cases Create a Destructive Chain Reaction

August 23, 2012

Sky-high medical liability verdicts are creating adverse effects for our health care system. [Illustration by Jem Sullivan.]

Medical liability cases have been on the rise in recent years, with multimillion dollar verdicts on the line. Such high awards encourage more people to sue physicians and which in turn, increases defensive medicine. The article, “The Rise of Sky-High Jury Awards,”explains how medical liability verdicts  in favor of the patient have reached an all time high and how it creates an adverse chain reaction in the medical realm.

According to the Coalition for Affordable and Reliable Health Care, the average medical liability award is about $3.5 million today. The AMA article shows that lawsuits involving children, in particular, or claims seeking lifelong compensation increase the chance of a high damages award.

Recent medical liability lawsuits in which jury awards have climbed into the tens of millions this year (AMA):

  • In May, a New York City woman won a $120 million award in a lawsuit against three hospitals and a neurologist who allegedly failed to diagnosis her with a rare skin disorder.
  • Pennsylvania jurors in May awarded a woman $78.5 million in her case against a medical center that allegedly breached the standard of care in delivering her son, who is now a quadriplegic.
  • In January, a jury awarded a patient a $178 million verdict against a Florida medical center. His family said the center failed to properly treat the patient’s complications from gastric bypass surgery.

The medical liability crisis is not only a huge issue for physicians, but also for patients, insurers and the future of medical care. Large payouts for meritless medical lawsuits creates an environment where physicians are performing unnecessary tests and procedures to prepare for possible legal defense, patients are losing access to physicians and insurers are often left with the bill after a large verdict.

While some cases are legitimate, a majority of them that make it to court don’t present valid cause-effect evidence. In fact, according to Physicians Insurers Association of America, only seven percent of suits ever go to court and nearly 80 percent of suits that go to court are found to be meritless and result in no awards. But when huge multimillion dollar verdicts are publicized in the news, it fuels more people to make these desperate claims.

In the end, costly liability claims create a chain reaction of destructive outcomes. It takes one multimillion dollar verdict in a bogus lawsuit to cause doctors to practice defensive medicine, premiums to skyrocket, patients lose access to physicians, and future medical students choose their specialty carefully for fear of malpractice lawsuits.

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