Summary: From payouts to frivolous cases, we’re addressing some common misconceptions people have about medical malpractice.
So, what is the medical malpractice myth? When it comes to court cases, few have more myths and misconceptions surrounding them than medical malpractice. This type of case is somewhat shrouded in mystery because few cases make the news. And those that do make the news are publicized for their enormous payouts, making a medical malpractice lawsuit seem something akin to winning the lottery.
You never want to experience the type of error or negligence that will help you build a solid, winnable medical malpractice case — that in itself comes with a lot of damage that money can’t repair. If, however, you have been the victim of medical error or negligence, you should know the truth about this type of lawsuit.
Let’s consider (1) general medical malpractice myths and misconceptions and (2) medical malpractice myths that are specific to Californians.
“Medical malpractice insurance premiums are going through the roof.”
This is a big myth, so bear with us as we aim to bust this three-part myth. When this has been an argument, the real problem has been too much medical malpractice, not too much litigation. First, research revealed that most people do not sue, which means that victims — not doctors, hospitals, or liability insurance companies — bear the lion’s share of the costs of medical malpractice.
In the mid-1970s the California Hospital and Medical Associations sponsored a study on medical malpractice that they expected would support their tort reform efforts. But, to their surprise and dismay, the study showed that medical malpractice injured tens of thousands of people every year — more than automobile and workplace accidents.
The study also showed that, despite the rhetoric, most of the victims did not sue. But almost nobody heard about the study because the associations decided that these facts conflicted with their tort reform message.
Second, because of those same studies, we know that the real costs of medical malpractice have little to do with litigation. The real costs of medical malpractice are the lost lives, extra medical expenses, time out of work, and pain and suffering of tens of thousands of people every year, the vast majority of whom do not sue.
There is lots of talk about the heavy burden that “defensive medicine” imposes on health costs, but the research shows this is not true.
Third, we know that medical malpractice insurance premiums are cyclical, and that it is not frivolous litigation or runaway juries that drive that cycle. The sharp spikes in malpractice premiums in the 1970s, the 1980s, and the early 2000s are the result of financial trends and competitive behavior in the insurance industry, not sudden changes in the litigation environment.
Fourth, we know that “undeserving” people sometimes bring medical malpractice claims because they do not know that the claims lack merit and because they cannot find out what happened to them (or their loved ones) without making a claim.
Most undeserving claims disappear before trial; most trials end in a verdict for the doctor; doctors almost never pay claims out of their own pockets; and hospitals and insurance companies refuse to pay claims unless there is good evidence of malpractice.
If a hospital or insurance company does settle a questionable claim to avoid a huge risk, there is a very large discount. This means that big payments to undeserving claimants are the very rare exception, not the rule.
Finally, we know that there is one sure thing — and only one thing — that the proposed remedies can be counted on to do. They can be counted on to distract attention long enough for the inevitable turn in the insurance cycle to take the edge off the doctors’ pain. That way, people can keep ignoring the real, public health problem. Injured patients and their lawyers are the messengers here, not the cause of the medical malpractice problem.
“Frivolous litigation and runaway juries will drive doctors out of the profession.”
The idea that most medical malpractice claims are frivolous is simply untrue. America became known as a sue-happy society some time ago, leading people to think that suing doctors and other medical professionals was simply a matter of an unhappy patient seeking revenge.
According to studies, however, of all medical malpractice lawsuits filed, only 3 percent could be considered frivolous. This means that, although there are frivolous cases out there – and although these cases tend to get a lot of media attention — the truth is that about 97 percent of medical malpractice lawsuits are merit-based, according to researchers at Harvard.
In fact, these researchers have analyzed records for more than 1,400 medical malpractice cases and have noted that “portraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown.”
This same study found that at least 80 percent of medical malpractice cases are related to allegations that medical negligence resulted in severe injuries or deaths.
Related article: The Medical Malpractice Myth by Tom Baker (An excerpt)
“Medical malpractice cases are filed for money, and victories result in huge payouts.”
Won’t that be nice… but debunking that myth is really simple. Fewer than 1 percent of medical malpractice claims result in awards of $1 million or higher. Most people are only compensated for medical bills. Depending on the situation, some may be compensated for other monetary damages, such as lost wages.
The real reason that many people file medical malpractice lawsuits is to get answers. Filing suit forces the medical professionals who made mistakes to testify or be deposed. For some families, this is the only way to find out exactly what went wrong and why.
Medical Malpractice Claims Cause Health Care Costs to Rise
The reality is that while health care costs have risen, medical malpractice claims have actually decreased. Blaming the rising costs of health care and health insurance on medical malpractice simply doesn’t hold any truth.
If you have been injured at the hands of a medical professional in Charleston, call our office with any questions that you may have. Don’t believe what you have heard about medical malpractice lawsuits until you speak with one of our experienced attorneys. We will give you the facts and help you determine if you have a case. Your first consultation is free. Call now or browse our website for more information about our firm.
“Though there are far more medical malpractice lawsuits than actual instances of malpractice, medical errors are a realistic and expected risk.”
This is a two-for-one myth. This is also flat-out wrong. As the instances of medical malpractice in the U.S. far exceed the case filings for malpractice claims.
While this due to the fact that not every victim of medical malpractice understands his rights or seeks legal help to right the wrongs that have been done to him, it also stems from the fact that attorneys are not always willing to take on malpractice cases, as they can be difficult to litigate and resolve (especially when there may be minimal evidence available).
This ultimately means that there are far less malpractice filings than actual incidents of medical malpractice in the U.S.
Regarding the ‘expectation’ myth, no one should expect to be harmed by a doctor. While there are complications that occur, in some medical malpractice cases, it is the patient who sets off the chain of events that lead to an injury. In many instances, however, the error was one that could have been prevented if policies and procedures were being followed.
Medical malpractice myths specific to California
“Injured patients can hold wrongdoers legally accountable because only non-economic damages are capped.”
Only those patients with large wage loss or medical bills are typically able to find attorneys in California. Most medical malpractice victims can’t. For example, injured patients who, as a result of medical negligence, lose their fertility or are severely disfigured typically cannot prove “economic” damage. Similarly, the death of a child or senior citizen typically does not result in “economic” damage because there is no basis for wage loss or measuring medical bills. In these types of California cases, there is typically no legal accountability for wrongdoers.
“Defensive medicine is always bad, significantly drives up the costs of medicine, and results from doctors facing full legal accountability.”
In the managed care age, the financial incentives point the other way — to less caution, not more. Proponents of limiting victims’ rights claim that doctors’ fear of lawsuits (referred to as “defensive medicine”) is driving them to perform unnecessary tests and procedures.
The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment foresaw this trend in July 1994, reporting that less than 8 percent of diagnostic procedures are likely to be caused by conscious concern about malpractice liability.
“Defensive medicine is not always bad for patients,” the agency stated. “Malpractice reforms that remove incentives to practice defensively, without differentiating between appropriate and inappropriate defensive medicine, could also remove a deterrent to providing too little care at the very time that such mechanisms are needed.”
Be sure to check out the related articles below for more details on medical malpractice myths that we might not have included in this list. And always remember that if you have medical malpractice concerns and are in need of a medical malpractice attorney in California, Raynes | Erickson can help. Contact us today!
Related Articles: Top Myths And Misconceptions About Medical Malpractice, 3 Medical Malpractice Myths You Shouldn’t Believe, and Five Dangerous Myths About California’s Medical Malpractice Restrictions