Washington, D.C. Medical Malpractice Verdicts

How many medical malpractice trials have there been in Washington D.C. this year? Ummm, let’s see, medical malpractice lawsuits are out of control. I know this because I read the Forbes article repeating the “malpractice lawsuits are running amok and medical malpractice lawyers are the problem” mantra. So how many do you guess? 150? 250? The correct answer, according to a report given by the D.C. Superior Court, is six.

The score is 3-3, three malpractice verdicts for the plaintiff and three defense verdicts. Of course, it must be that the juries are handing out whopping malpractice verdicts. We know this because we have heard it so many times before. So, back to the guessing game theme for today, how much did the juries award in these three malpractice jury verdicts? $20 million? $40 million? The answer is $366,775.24. But even that number is misleadingly high. The largest verdict – $131,775.45 – was taken away by the trial judge. So the total amount of malpractice jury awards in Washington, D.C. in 2009 is $235,000.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, your medical malpractice crisis.

You know who really deserves some praise? The lobbyists employed by doctors groups and medical malpractice insurance carriers. These guys really deserve a raise.

  • Eric T.

    What!? No crisis?!

    You mean those tort “reformers” weren’t really honest with me?!

    I’m shocked. Just shocked, I tell you…

  • Sorry, but dipping into the stream of verdicts for a 6-month, one-city sample tells us very little worth knowing. Everyone on both sides agrees that the great majority of cases settle short of final verdict. It is uncontroverted that many tens of billions have changed hands in asbestos litigation, but the number of asbestos cases sued to verdict is remarkably small. A six-month sample taken in a major city would probably produce zero verdicts in that category.

    Novice readers will conclude from your post that patients got $235,000 from suing docs in D.C. over the first six months of the year. You really should tell them what percentage of med mal filings in your experience settle at some stage short of final verdict. Only 90%? 95%? 97%?

    While we’re at it, were any of the three plaintiff wins brain-damaged baby cases or wrongful death? If not, should medical defendants relax since such high-value cases obviously must not get filed in D.C.?

  • Ron Miller

    It is a small sampling to be sure. But six months of for a city the size of D.C. is pretty meaningful. Clearly, most malpractice cases settle. The question is what about the cases where reasonable minds truly differ in a significant way? This is what leads to a trial. In those types of cases in D.C. over this period, juries tended to lean towards doctors on both questions of liability and scope and extent of damages.

    Anecdotally, it is worth noting, Walter, that medical malpractice lawyers in D.C. were surprised that plaintiffs won half of the trials because the real average is actually much lower. Doctors generally do well in front of juries. Novice readers of your blog – which I read everyday – would indirectly be led to conclude otherwise.

    Trials matter because every malpractice settlement – the 90%+ you are talking about – is based on what may happen at trial.

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