Study Highlights Medical Malpractice Lawsuits and True Amount of Medical Errors

The hot debate over tort reform usually involves frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits. If a medical negligence case goes to court, it is not frivolous.

It may sound incredibly simple to just state that medical malpractice lawsuits can be frivolous. This however, comes from a point of view of someone who has no idea what it involves to take a medical malpractice case to court. The enormous amount of time needed to vet a medical malpractice case, study the patient records, line up expert witnesses, and more instantly signifies that a case is not frivolous.

Medical malpractice lawyers do not waste their time on cases that are merely bad outcomes with a doctor. They do however, take cases that involve medical negligence that harmed someone permanently, and they take a case because they know it has merit, and the court needs to hear it. Lawyers are also seeking justice for the patient who ended up with a life they no longer recognize as a result of medical malpractice.

If you do not believe either side of the hot debate over tort reform, take some time to track down and read the study published by the New England Journal of Medicine a few short years ago. It has information in it that will pique your interest. In particular, it answers the question regarding how many patients bring a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The basis of the study involves five malpractice insurance companies across the U.S. and examines 1,452 different claims. The claims include medication errors, surgical errors, obstetrical mistakes and other issues such as delayed or missed diagnosis. Those are the main areas that comprise roughly 80 percent of all of the medical malpractice claims in the U.S. today.

Perhaps the most interesting fact gleaned from the statistics is that filing a claim and the subsequent litigation tends to show whether an error really did occur. In other words, it is not so much that lawyers take shaky cases to court, but that it is becoming increasingly difficult for plaintiffs and attorneys to figure out what really happened to the patient before a claim is filed. This has a down side as you can imagine, in that medicine is becoming more and more complex, thus increasing the number of chances for something to go wrong. The question then becomes how it went wrong and who caused the error.

Overall, the researchers in this study concluded that the oft-used political cry of frivolous lawsuits is exaggerated. What seems to be the real issue is that when a case did land in court and the dust settled, there was no medical error. That means the attorney took the case in good faith and was certain there was an issue to be settled. Only later when all the documentation was on the table for examination did it turn out there was no medical error, but instead a bad outcome without doctor negligence. The statistics are very clear though that the major portion of malpractice costs were spent litigating and paying for errors that did happen.

The other interesting find is that the justice system does a good job of booting out medical malpractice cases that have no merit. In other words, if the system really has a glitch in it, then the glitch is in favor of the plaintiff (arguably a good thing).

There is no question that litigating medical malpractice is expensive, but one way or the other, they bring justice where it needs to be served.

Robert Webb is an Atlanta personal injury lawyer with Webb & D’Orazio, a law firm specializing in Atlanta personal injury, malpractice, criminal defense, and business law. Learn more at

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