As a trial lawyer, you probably expect that I look at things in a pretty black-and-white manner when it comes to medical malpractice. I’m fully aware of the stereotypes out there about the "ambulance chasers" or the "money grubbing" trial attorneys looking to make a quick buck. But I can assure you that this is not the case. What I want to see is for there to be fewer medical malpractice claims because there are fewer medical errors made. Until I see the day when avoidable medical errors are punished systematically and patients receive the decent care they deserve, I will continue to fight for the rights of the injured.
That being said, I can appreciate both sides of the debate on medical malpractice. For example, I recently came across an article by an expert in medical malpractice, Harvard economist Amitabh Chandra, who irks both camps from time to time–the trial lawyers association and the medical association. In a recent article, Dr. Chandra wrote about the actual number of medical malpractice suits that result in payouts to patients. Despite the stereotypes about large lawsuit awards constantly paid out to supposedly undeserving clients, Dr. Chandra found the opposite to be true. Among the findings, Dr. Chandra and his colleagues state that most medical malpractice cases result in either the client dropping the case or a court dismissing it. In fact, in every medical specialty Dr. Chandra and his colleagues studied, 3 out of 4 claims led to no payment. In many specialties, 9 out of 10 led to no payment. Overall, only about 7% of doctors faced a claim in one year, and only 2 percent actually paid out.
So why are doctors so frightened about medical malpractice lawsuits if most result in no monetary damages? The doctors state that the mere threat of facing a malpractice claim is enough to raise the fear factor. What these facts do point to is that medical malpractice reform, or caps on payouts, will likely do very little to curb high medical costs. We’re talking about the anticipated versus the actual–since there are already so few claims that result in payouts then there is really no reason for doctors to worry about that side of things. What they’re really worried about is the loss of reputation, stress, time, etc. We could all ease the doctors’ minds (and my own) by creating an accountability system that punishes doctors who commit avoidable medical mistakes and where decent care was less likely to be punished by lawsuits. In the end we’d all get what we wanted–better care for patients and healthcare cost savings.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.