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

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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.

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Holding steady

The median jury award for compensatory damages in malpractice cases saw a slight increase between 2001 and 2002. That marks the third year in a row that the average has been around $1 million.

Median award
1996 $473,055
1997 $500,000
1998 $700,000
1999 $712,500
2000 $1,000,000
2001 $1,000,000
2002 $1,010,858

Source: Jury Verdict Research

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