CBS News reports that, according to a study conducted by physicians from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, paid medical malpractice claims declined by about 56 percent between 1992 and 2014. The average payout for a successful malpractice claim, however, jumped over 23 percent reaching a high of $353,000 for the 2009-2014 time period.
Dr. Adam Schaffer, lead author of the study, speculates that this change in medical malpractice payouts is due to recent tort reform that placed statutory limits on medical malpractice damages. The study could mean that, because of the statutory limit on damages, lawyers are less inclined to take medical malpractice cases. The study suggests that the cases lawyers do take, however, are those that might present a bigger payout at the end. This would explain why the overall number of medical malpractice claims went down while the average payout per claim would be expected to rise.
If Schaffer is correct about these trends resulting from tort reform, then tort reform has resulted in a 75.8% reduction in claims against pediatricians between 1992 and 2014 (the largest decline) and a 13.5% reduction in claims against cardiologists (the smallest). Researchers found that the average amount of the payments for medical malpractice claims increased by 23.3%, with claims against neurosurgeons yielding the highest payments and claims against dermatologists yielding the lowest. The number of claims yielding more than 1 million dollars also increased during the time period that the study measured.
While some would like to suggest that the decline in claims could simply be attributed to providing safer care, both Schaffer and Dr. David Troxel, medical director for the nation’s largest physician-owned malpractice insurer, say not so. Schaffer notes that other studies looking at medical errors have not found trends that mirror the Brigham study and Troxel says the fact that a similar decline occurred in other lines of casualty insurance undercuts the safer patient care theory.
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