New York Personal Injury Law Blog » FAQ-Medical Malpractice, Medical Malpractice, tort reform


January 24th, 2007

The Medical Malpractice "Crisis" Hoax — From Public Citizen

Since others had already pointed out the Public Citizen report exposing the hoax of a medical malpractice “crisis” I wasn’t going to bother. But there was Pres. Bush last night at his State of the Union speech once again leading people astray, when he said:

And to protect good doctors from junk lawsuits, by passing medical liability reform.

Good doctors, however, don’t seem to be the problem. Since 1991, according to the report, 5.9 percent of U.S. doctors were responsible for 57.8 percent of the number of medical malpractice payments. That is an extraordinary statistic.

A few other points from the report, and things to think about when someone advocates closing the courthouse door to those injured by negligence:

  • The number of malpractice payments declined 15.4 percent between 1991 and 2005.
  • Adjusted for inflation, the average annual payment for verdicts declined 8 percent between 1991 and 2005.
  • Payments for million-dollar verdicts were less than 3 percent of all payments in 2005.
  • Over 64 percent of payments in 2005 involved death, or major or significant injuries.
  • Payments for “insignificant injury” were less than one-third of 1 percent of payments in 2005.

The Public Citizen study follows a report last year in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled “Claims, Errors, and Compensation Payments in Medical Malpractice Litigation.” This was based on a study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard Risk Management Foundation.

Is our society litigation crazy? Apparently not. It appears from the Public Citizen report that only 5-10% of those killed by medical errors had any recovery from a malpractice suit. From the report:

“One-third of malpractice cases resulting in a malpractice payment in 2005 (4,504) involved the death of a patient. Yet, as a 1999 landmark study by the Institute of Medicine showed, an estimated 44,000 to 98,000 patient deaths occur each year as a result of preventable medical errors in hospitals.”

Public Citizen took their data from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which contains data on malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors as well as information about disciplinary actions against them by state medical boards or hospitals.

Just reading the table of contents of this report is enough to make anyone think twice about the propaganda spewed by advocates of tort “reform.”

Key Findings
Part I: The Medical Liability System Produces Rational Outcomes

a. Annual Number of Malpractice Payments Is Down
b. Medical Malpractice Payments per Population Continue to Decline
c. Total Value of Malpractice Payments Flat Since 1991
d. Judgments Are Not Irrational
e. Million-Dollar Judgments Are Less Than 1 Percent of the Total Number of
f. Million-Dollar Judgments Were Less Than 3 Percent of Total Value of Payments
in 2005
g. Severe Injuries Account for a Majority of Payments
h. Medical Liability System Is Rational In Outcomes
i. 82 Percent of Total Value of Payments Compensate Most Severe Injuries
j. The Proportion of Surgical and Obstetrics Payments Flat Since 1991

Part II: Patient Safety and Doctor Discipline
k. Some Common, Preventable Errors Are Increasing
l. Easily Preventable Errors Show a Marked Increase Since 2003
m. Since the Beginning of the NPDB, 5.9 Percent of U.S. Doctors Were Responsible
for 57.8 Percent of the Number of Medical Malpractice Payments
n. Doctors with Repeated Malpractice Payments Experience Few Consequences
o. Many Serious Repeat Offender Doctors Are Not Disciplined