The authors of a study published online on October 22, 2014 by HealthAffairs sought to investigate the impact of medical malpractice caps on noneconomic damages on the average size of medical malpractice payments for ten medical specialties as well as for physicians overall. The researchers found that caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases for the period between 1985 and 2010 reduced average payments by $42,980 overall when compared to claims that were not subject to caps, which represented a reduction of 15%.
The study further reported that a cap in the amount of $250,000 reduced the average medical malpractice payment by 20% ($59,331) while a cap in the amount of $500,000 was found to have no significant effect when compared to medical malpractice payments in states with no caps on noneconomic damages. Caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice claims had the largest effect on claims against pediatricians and the smallest effect on claims against ophthalmologists and surgical subspecialties. The medical specialties included in the study were: internal medicine (which included family practice), general surgery, surgical subspecialties, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, cardiology, anesthesiology, radiology, ophthalmology, and the combined category “other.”
The study’s authors used data from the Physician Insurers Association of America (PIAA) Data Sharing Project, which is the largest database of paid and unpaid medical malpractice claims from private insurers in the United States. PIAA is an organization consisting of 60 domestic and 12 international medical malpractice insurers and 46 affiliated members, which combined insure more than 325,000 medical practitioners. The database contains about one-fourth of the medical malpractice claims filed in the United States.
The study analyzed 220,653 medical malpractice claims. Of those claims, 33.7% (74,366) involved indemnity payments. The highest proportion of indemnity payments involved obstetrics and gynecology (39.4%), general surgery (38.8%), and anesthesiology (38.3%).
The study’s authors addressed several significant limitations in their study, including that “it is possible that stringent caps reduce malpractice claims and that the claims not made because of the caps have marginally weaker merits and lower average indemnity payments. In that case, our estimates of the reductions in average indemnity payments associated with stringent caps may underestimate the caps’ true effect.”
Perhaps the medical malpractice tort reform experience in Texas, where the state imposed a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in most medical malpractice cases in 2003, is a prime example of the devastating effect that caps on damages in medical malpractice cases have had on medical malpractice victims: it is nearly impossible to find a medical malpractice lawyer in Texas willing to help medical malpractice victims receive compensation for the harms they suffered unless their injuries were catastrophic — Texas medical malpractice victims who suffer lesser but no less impactful harms are left without a means of receiving compensation from their negligent medical providers who enjoy the economic incentive to continue to harm their patients.
If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries or complications due to possible medical negligence in the United States, you should promptly consult with a local medical malpractice attorney in your U.S. state who may investigate your situation for you and represent you in a medical malpractice claim, if appropriate.
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