Medical Malpractice Claims Declining

Numbers confirm what those of us who represent patients in Tennessee medical malpractice cases thought we knew:  the number of claims paid in medical malpractice cases is declining.

Using data gather from the National Practioner Data Bank, JAMA Internal Medicine  reports that the overall rate of claims paid on behalf of physicians deceased by 55.7% from 1992 to 2014. The mean compensation payment was $329, 565. The mean payment increased by 23.3%, from $286 ,751 in 1992-1996 to $353 ,473 in 2009-2014, a rate less than the increase in inflation (and far less than the rate of health care inflation, during the period.

Why did this happen?  Here is my view:

  1.  In many states, changes in the law that makes it harder and more expensive to file malpractice cases and limits the amount of money that a patient can recover, particularly the amount of non-economic damages (damages for pain, suffering, disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life and, in death cases, the loss of love and society).
  2. The plaintiff’s bar’s natural reaction to the above, which will decline to accept “smaller” meritorious cases because of economic reasons.  Points 1 and 2 impact the number of filings and will tend to increase the average amount paid because of fewer smaller dollar cases in the mix.
  3. The efforts by some groups (anesthesia comes to mind) to reduce the number of claims by developing protocols and training doctors and others in the field to follow them.  Appropriate risk management saves lives and reduces claims.
  4. More aggressive defense of cases.  Defense lawyers have fewer cases and thus are economically motivated to work the reduced caseload even harder.  Claims adjusters do not oppose, and perhaps actively encourage, those efforts, because they too have fewer cases and thus seek to justify their existence by having more activity in a reduced number of files.