Report: Low malpractice payouts are no sign of patient safety

A consumer advocacy group, Public Citizen, recently reported that payments for U.S. medical malpractice claims have been dropping steadily for eight years. Payments in 2011 were the lowest on record since 1991. Chicago patients and their families might certainly be inclined to interpret this information as positive news. After all, fewer payments mean fewer instances of medical malpractice, right? Not necessarily.

Medical errors occur daily throughout Illinois and across the entire country. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 80,000 Medicare patients die every year due to preventable medical mistakes. Another 620,000 Medicare patients are seriously harmed by health care professionals’ mistakes. Malpractice claim payouts are slight compared to our government’s estimate that hundreds of thousands of patients are victims of medical negligence and poor patient care each year.

Public Citizen reported that malpractice payments made for doctors last year fell below 10,000 and totaled $3.2 billion, with an average individual payout of $327,000. Four of every five jury awards involved cases of patients who had suffered severe, permanent or fatal injuries.

Critics say medical malpractice litigation is a drain on the national cost of health care. Public Citizen found that malpractice payouts made up only a fraction of one percent of nationwide health care expenses, though. Malpractice insurance and legal fees for doctors and hospitals accused of medical mistakes fell to a two-decade low in 2010.

The Public Citizen report found no connection between the decline in payouts for medical malpractice to better health care and improvements in patient safety. The study concluded that medical error victims are not receiving adequate compensation for their injuries, pain and suffering.

Although victims of medical malpractice may be discouraged by this information, they should understand that they have important legal rights that must be protected. With the assistance of an attorney, victims may be able to receive the help they need to finally get the compensation they deserve.

Source: Insurance Journal, “Malpractice Claims at Record Low, Not Driving Health Costs: Consumer Group” July 13, 2012

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