Throughout the country, medical malpractice suits are thought to flood the legal system. People are led to believe these law suits are frivolous, as it is alleged that they lead to outrageously large verdicts that drive doctors out of business or out of state. In reality, medical malpractice suits comprise well under 2% of all civil cases in the country, despite the fact that preventable medical errors are the third largest cause of death in America. Don’t let misconceptions prevent you from seeking justice if you experience a medical error. Learn the truth about medical malpractice and what to do if you believe you have a case.
How common are medical errors?
Even though 1/3 of Americans say that they or a member of their family have encountered a medical error and 1/5 say that error caused serious health problems or death, the extent of these errors is vastly underestimated. In a 2004 survey, approximately half of the respondents believed the annual death total from medical errors was 5,000 people or less. According to a Journal of Patient Safety study, the number is actually anywhere from 210,000 to 440,000.
Why do patients file suits?
One of the most pervasive myths about malpractice lawsuits is that patients only file them because of the promise of a multimillion dollar verdict. In reality, just one half of one percent of malpractice payments awarded $1 million or more. Additionally, the median damage award for death in medical malpractice cases is nearly 50% smaller than in other wrongful death cases. These awards are not why patients are filing. Research shows that people file these claims to find someone to hold accountable. 70% of patients who experience medical errors are not told by their doctors and a lawsuit is often the only way to find out what really happened.
Are doctors really leaving the state?
Another well-circulated myth about medical malpractice is that doctors are moving across state lines and retiring early, leading to a shortage of physicians. A Government Accountability Office investigation refutes this claim, stating that “many of the reported provider actions taken in response to malpractice pressures were not substantiated or did not widely affect access to health care.” Actually, the number of doctors in the United States is increasing. In 2007, there were 941,304 doctors in the country, nearly 20,000 more than the year before. In most states, the increase in physicians has either matched or surpassed the increase in population. Additionally, despite claims that states without damages caps are driving physicians away, the ratio of doctors to population is actually 13% higher in those states than in states with caps.
What to do
This article does not purport to give legal advice and is for informational purposes only.