A new Cato Institute book, Medical Malpractice Litigation, written by six top medical malpractice researchers, examines data about, among other things, jury verdicts and insurance payouts. The authors found that the medical malpractice insurance industry campaigns that focused on jury verdicts are “based on an incomplete and potentially misleading factual foundation.”
Some of the authors’ findings (based on data mostly from Texas):
When injured patients go to court, win their case and obtain a jury verdict in their favor, the vast majority receive far less than what a jury awards.
- Seventy-four percent of patients receive less than what a jury awards whether the wrongdoer is a physician, hospital or nursing home.
- On average, juries award about twice as much as an injured patient ultimately receives, and the larger, or more “nuclear” the verdict, the relatively less the injured patient receives.
- When verdicts are more than $2.5 million, 95 percent of patients receive less than that – on average 55 percent less.
- If a verdict exceeds $10 million, the patient receives on average 65 percent less than the verdict.
Medical malpractice insurance policy limits (often extremely low) are the principal reason why patients receive so little compared to the verdict. While health care providers carry medical malpractice insurance, it is often minimal and insufficient to cover the harm they cause.
- In Texas, while there is a “widely held belief that policies with $1 million per occurrence limits are standard,” the authors found that between 1986–2003, “the median nominal policy limit was $500,000. Only 34 percent of the policies had nominal limits of $1 million.… By contrast, 33 percent had nominal limits of $200,000 or less.”
- The researchers found that “this standard size has not changed, to our knowledge, since at least the 1980s, even though nominal prices have more than doubled since then. This suggests that real policy limits are likely dropping in other states too.”
Injured patients collect, on average, only 15 percent of verdicts that exceed a provider’s policy limit. This can create enormous injustices, as the following two examples described by the authors demonstrate:
- “Brain damage to 55-year-old. Adjusted verdict of $24.8 million in 2010 dollars; settled for the physician’s policy limit of $334,000 in 2010 dollars ($200,000 limit in nominal dollars).”
- “Injury to a 44-year-old. Adjusted verdict of $2.2 million in 2010 dollars; settled for the physician’s policy limit of $147,000 in 2010 dollars ($100,000 limit in nominal dollars).”
While cases involving newborns who are catastrophically injured may result in higher jury verdicts, “perinatal physicians carry less insurance than other physicians and have reduced their insurance coverage over time.” That means these babies can be severely undercompensated for the lifetime of care they will require.
If you or a loved one may have been injured as a result of medical malpractice in the United States, you should promptly find a medical malpractice lawyer in your state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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