Malpractice plaintiffs' wins, awards up slightly
■ Doctors are still winning most cases that go to juries, but fewer than in years past.
By Tanya Albert amednews correspondent — Posted April 19, 2004
Economic and noneconomic damages awarded in medical malpractice lawsuits appear to have held relatively steady in the first few years of this decade.
Juries gave plaintiffs about 1% more in compensatory damages in 2002 than they did in 2001, according to Horsham, Pa.-based Jury Verdict Research's annual report, "Current Award Trends in Personal Injury," released April 1.
The median jury award was $1,010,858 in 2002, slightly higher than the $1 million reported in 2001 and 2000. The leveling-off comes after jumps in the late 1990s, when the median compensatory damage award went from $500,000 in 1997 to $712,500 in 1999 and then to the $1-million mark in 2000.
"We're pleased it's leveling off, but leveling off is not the same as going down," said Richard E. Anderson, MD, chair of The Doctors Company, a physician-owned, national medical liability insurer. "It's leveling off at historically high levels."
In addition to the slightly higher verdict awards, the new data also showed that even though doctors are winning a majority of the cases that go the jury, plaintiffs are winning more than they once did.
In 2002, plaintiffs won 42% of the medical malpractice cases, according to Jury Verdict Research. That's up from 40% in 2001. But Dr. Anderson notes that the increase isn't as slight as it might appear.
While it is a difference of 2 percentage points, it means that plaintiffs actually won 5% more of their cases in 2002 than they did in 2001.
"With the average cost of each loss more than $1 million dollars, 5% is a significant increase," he said.
Other findings include:
- Childbirth negligence cases continue to be the one area where physicians are losing the majority of cases that do go to a jury. In 2002, plaintiffs won 60% of these cases, according to the data. That's up from 55% in 2001 and 34% in 1996.
- Between 1996 and 2002, death was the most frequent claim in medical malpractice cases. Median jury award for those years was $1 million.
- Brain damage injury awards garner the highest jury verdicts, with the median jury award coming in at nearly $5.4 million between 1996 and 2002.