Runaway juries are a big problem in medical malpractice cases. Juries see a sympathetic plaintiff and, unchecked by reason, they start writing oversized checks. Liberal judges aid and abet the crime.
This belief has taken deep root in Maryland – and in most states – that has led to the enactment of scores of laws to impede medical malpractice lawsuits. Most notable of these restrictions has been medical malpractice caps. Maryland had an onerous cap that became even more draconian. Why? Because the Maryland State Medical Society’s (MedChi) very skillfully orchestrated what almost everyone now agrees was a faux crisis.
Trial lawyers have been pretty much outsmarted at every turn by doctors and other tort reform proponents. These advocacy groups have smartly turned the focus away from hard facts and have, ironically, effectively used the quintessential trial lawyer weapons, antidotes, and imagery. Pictures of doctors on highways walking out of the state because of high malpractice premiums. A story about a cute little Doc Hollywood like country doctor who had to close his practice because of frivolous malpractice suits. They have, repeatedly, won. Their lobbyists and PR people have done a great job.
The facts paint a little bit of a different picture than the “juries gone wild” leitmotif would suggest. In a research letter in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers looked at 10,000 closed malpractice claims. Here are some malpractice statistics the study uncovered. Most of these stats support my “malpractice juries actually give doctors the benefit of the doubt” thesis, although I’ve added a few just for pure interest:
- Over half of all medical malpractice cases are dismissed before a trial
- Plaintiffs get a jury verdict in only 4.5% of filed medical malpractice lawsuits
- Almost 4 out of 5 malpractice lawsuits that go to verdict are won by the doctor
- If you want justice in a malpractice case, be patient. The average time to resolve a malpractice suit was 19 months — 25.1 months for those that were litigated in court and 11.6 months for those are cases that reached a settlement without a lawsuit. Claims won by the physician took an average of 39 months to get to a verdict; plaintiffs’ verdicts took 43.5 months.
- Approximately 60% of lawsuits involving internal medicine and anesthesiologist malpractice are dismissed before trial.
- Half of the file lawsuits against pathologists and pediatricians end in a settlement.
I have a lot of opinions about our tort system. I don’t have my feet in concrete on a single opinion. I realize that people smarter than I believe the exact opposite on many of these issues of our day. Certainly, in the passion of argument, it does not always come off that way, but the last person I want to be is the “everyone is an idiot but me” blogger. But in the food chain of “how strongly do you believe it?”, I don’t have many opinions on the tort system that I feel stronger about than (1) state and local government tort claims acts are an abomination, (2) caps that limit a jury’s ability to award damages are unfair and un-American.