Medical malpractice claims have fallen sharply over the past decade in Maine, coinciding with an increase in the dividends of the largest medical malpractice insurer in the state. And while the company attributes the decrease in claims to improvements in care and communication with patients, state law may be making it more difficult for residents of the state to reach the litigation stage of a medical malpractice suit.
Medical Malpractice in Maine
More than half of all the physicians and hospitals in the state of Maine are insured by Medical Mutual Insurance Co. of Maine. In 2013, the company paid out fewer than 200 claims, while a decade ago in 2003 the company paid out more than double that number, 434. At the same time, medical malpractice premiums are dropping, four times since 2008, and the malpractice insurer recently declared a dividend of more than $5 million, the largest in its history.
Medical Mutual credits improvements in the quality of care delivered by the care providers it insures as well as improved communication with patients as the factors driving these numbers. However, there are other factors at play, including a state law that necessitates pre-litigation screening, which can slow down the medical malpractice claim process significantly.
Every malpractice claim filed in Maine has to go through a screening process before it is eligible to be heard in court. The screening process is similar to the litigation process, with attorneys, expert witnesses, plaintiffs and defendants all participating. According to Bangor Daily News, "The process culminates in a one-day, confidential hearing before a three-member panel, which includes a doctor practicing in the same specialty as the accused physician." The decision this panel reaches is usable in court, if the claim makes it past this step to litigation. Many cases are resolved here in favor of the defendant.
Because plaintiffs are required to go through screening, the time and money they invest in the process is significantly increased, to the point where it may be cost prohibitive and force plaintiffs to abandon their claims.