We have all heard the word frivolous to describe lawsuits, particularly medical malpractice lawsuits, and usually it is by one political group describing all lawsuits they do not like. Fact is, a "frivolous lawsuit" means a lawsuit without legal merit or factual merit. Study after study shows that the vast majority of cases filed are not "frivolous" and the ones that are, are dismissed early on by the Judge because they lack factual and/or legal merit. Additionally, rising insurance rates is the other excuse to enact reforms to curtail lawsuits, another myth.
A recent report from the consumer advocacy group Public Citizens, indicates that payments associated with medical malpractice claims hit a record low in 2011. The group said that the number of malpractice payments on behalf of doctors (9,758) was the lowest since 1991, the first full year that data was collected. This represented the eighth straight year of a decline in the number of payments. The average size of medical malpractice payments (approximately $327,000) amounted to $3.2 billion. When adjusted for inflation, this figure also comes in at the lowest amount on record.
The organization was quick to note that this reduced number of payments does not mean that patients should assume medical care has gotten correspondingly safer. Instead, the report should be seen as evidence that doctors are increasingly practicing defensive medicine to avoid litigation and working hard to avoid reporting incidents to the database at all.
The data collected by the group found that most lawsuits are not frivolous, as many opponents to medical malpractice lawsuits often insist. Instead, it found that 80% of payments are for cases involving either med malpractice death or catastrophic harm. The report further indicates these lawsuits do not contribute to the increasingly enormous cost of healthcare these days. Public Citizen found that med mal litigation costs came to only a tiny fraction of total national healthcare spending in 2010, 0.36% in fact.
The report also calls into question the accuracy of the National Practitioner Data Bank, where such reports of medical malpractice payments are compiled. The group says many instances of disciplinary action and money paid to patients are never recorded in the database. For instance, in cases that have settled it's possible to remove the physician's name from the case entirely, shielding the doctor from reporting the incident. Brian Atchinson, current president of the Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA), said this kind of underreporting is increasing. Even the director of the NPDB, Cindy Grubbs, admitted that the practice is happening. She told one reporter that she's aware that doctors are dismissed before settlements are reached as a way to avoid reporting the payment on their medical record but said that the NPDB has "no way of knowing how often it occurs."
If you or some you know has become sick or injured because of a doctor failing to provide an appropriate level of care, you need the help of a St. Louis injury attorney skilled in medical malpractice to help protect your rights and recover damages for your injury. Contact med mal attorney Ben Sansone today for a free consultation at (314) 863-0500.
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