2006 Tennessee Med Mal Claims Report Released

The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance has released the "2006 Tennessee Medical Malpractice Claims Report"" which, in fact, is based on 2005 data.  Read the entire report here.

Some highlights:

*  There were  5 – that’s right – 5 – claims were resolved by judgment for the plaintiff in the entire state.  There were 6 verdicts for the plaintiff in 2004.

*  There were 2827 med mal claims closed by insurers in 2005.  Although the report is unclear, 2361 appear to be closed with no payment to the claimant.  Note:  a closed claim does not mean that a lawsuit was filed.  A claim may be a report by a provider of, say, a patient complaint.

* There were 461 settlements in med mal cases last year, up only slightly from 444 the year before.  The total is less than five per county.

* Total settlements were $119,091,990.  That is an average of about $260,000 per settled claim, about the same as last year.

*  As of 12/31/05 there were 5680 claims pending.  The amount reserved for those claims is slightly over $822,000,000.

I have a few comments.  Five jury verdicts for the plaintiffs is shocking – it demonstrates that people are settling good cases and trying difficult ones.  Jury verdicts for the defendant are not reported, but should be, in that it would tell what a good job juries are doing weeding out "bad" cases.

Second, the dollars paid per settled claim is lower than I would have expected, and much lower than what the public would assume it to be given the propagand from the health care industry.

Third, we need to get rid of ad damnum clauses.  The total damages sought in cases was in the billions, and most ad damnums do not reflect reality.  They should be prohibited.

Fourth, almost 2000 people die of medical malpractice per year in Tennessee.  An unknown number are injured.  The reported verdicts and settlements tell us that but a fraction of those claimants ever find their way to a lawyer.

Fifth, we need to get a better handle on what percentage of cases are voluntarily dismissed or dismissed on summary judgment.  Clearly, there are suits being filed that should not have been filed, and some steps need to be taken to reduce the number of those claims while taking into account the difficulty of finding an expert before filing suit given sloppy or false medical records and Tennessee’s one-year statute of limitations.

Sixth, these and other statistics confirm that the so-called crisis in medical malpractice liability is false.  The claims are few in number given the number of negligent acts and omissions causing injury and death and the results modest compared with other states.  The health care industry would be better served by focusing its efforts on reducing claims rather than seeking to eliminate the rights of patients with valid claims.