Many Not Receiving Compensation for Medical Malpractice

Posted on Oct 28, 2009


"Our medical-malpractice lawsuit system is too capricious and too clogged with costs and delays to do justice for malpractice victims or for wrongly sued doctors. It also does little to deter malpractice.

Worse, unless fundamentally reformed, malpractice law could greatly weaken efforts to control health care costs. The main reason, in the view of many experts, is that doctors' fear of unwarranted malpractice liability helps spur many billions of dollars in unnecessary "defensive medicine" costs.

Medical malpractice does happen. A 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine found that as many as 98,000 people are killed every year by preventable medical errors. This cries out for effective legal remedies. But malpractice law as we know it is not effective. It is, in too many ways, bad for patients, bad for doctors, and bad for the country.

Bad for patients. Only 1.5 to 3 percent of all victims of medical negligence -- and about 17 percent of severely injured victims -- file claims, according to data, including a study cited by the Congressional Budget Office last year.

Many of these patients are apparently unaware that medical errors caused their injuries. But many others are probably deterred by the difficulty of finding lawyers -- who typically take only the most lucrative cases -- and the prospect of years of legal brawling with little chance of timely compensation and no assurance of ever being compensated.

A careful 2006 study by the Harvard School of Public Health found that 73 percent of those who brought valid claims ended up winning compensation. That's not so bad. But it takes five years, on average, leaving injured plaintiffs without compensation when they need it most. Moreover, an exorbitant 54 percent of the money spent in the malpractice system goes to legal and administrative costs."

October 3, 2009
National Journal Magazine

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