An often held claim is that increases in medical malpractice litigation and payouts result in medical malpractice crises, such as the one experienced in the early 2000’s. Critics point to huge verdicts for plaintiffs with claims they consider undeserving of such a verdict. While it may be true that not every court has rendered an appropriate verdict, the fact is that these cases are the exception to the rule. The vast majority of payments to medical malpractice plaintiffs are actually the result of out-of-court settlements for figures which do not place a great strain on the healthcare system as a few high verdicts would suggest. The numbers show that increases in medical malpractice litigation do not cause medical malpractice crises.
Do Increases in Litigation Cause Medical Malpractice Crises?
The first data point that puts a big dent in this statement is the fact that paid claims per physician have been falling for more than two decades. This number "is now less than one-half the level it was in 1992." Payout per physician has also declined at a comparable rate, currently at just less than half than 1992 levels. This has occurred in both states with and without caps on total or noneconomic damages.
As for the amount of payments, this number has not spiraled out of control as some would claim. A study "using National Practitioner Databank data found that average payments grew 52% from 1991 to 2004, roughly in line with increases in health-care spending." Though data are not available for the medical malpractice crises of the 70s and 808s, "Other studies using state-specific closed claims databases from Texas (covering 1988-2002) and Florida (covering 1990-2003) also found that malpractice claiming and payouts were stable prior to the malpractice crisis that hit in 1999 to 2000."
Despite claims by some that increases in litigation leads to medical malpractice crises, the data suggest otherwise.