The Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance has released the 2013 Health Care Liability Report. Unfortunately, the report bears the date on which it is issued rather than the year the data used to generate the report is based.
In any event, the data confirms what most of us know about the state of health care liability litigation in Tennessee. Medical malpractice claims have dropped substantially since 2008 when the notice and certificate of good faith statutes went into effect.
Here is data on the number of paid claims for the period from 2010 through 2012:
The number of claims closed without payment is about 80% of closed claims. Stated differently, for every five claims that are opened four are later closed with no payment to the patient.
So, if there are 3927 pending claims at the end of 2012 and historically payments have been made to patients in 20% of claims, that means that a payment to a patient will be made in about 800 of the pending claims.
Notice that in the last three years the number of closed claims and end-of-year totals has dropped substantially. This is consistent with complaints we are hearing from the defense bar – they have seen that their case inventory is dropping because the number of new case filings has dropped.
Remember that "claims" are different than lawsuits. Not every claim results in a lawsuit, and multiple claims can result in one lawsuit. Here is the data on filings of health care liability cases for the last few fiscal years ending on June 30.
So we are seeing some increase in filings, although they are still down about 30% from where they were six years ago. What is going on?
I am not sure. There has been an increase in population and that would impact the number of patients and thus the number of possibilities for malpractice to occur. Financial pressure on the health care industry may be impacting quality of care. Several defense lawyers have told me that they are seeing an increase claims brought by inexperienced lawyers. Of course, the defense bar secretly loves these cases – these lawyers are unlikely to have the savvy or money to bring even a good case across the finish line, much less actually win the case. If inexperienced lawyers are bringing more cases we should see the results of that in an increase in unpaid claims.
The total damages paid on health care liability cases in 2012 was $90,520,000. Since we know that there were 436 claims paid in 2012, the average payment per claim was $208,000.
In 2011, the total amount paid was $114,000,000, so the total payments dropped over 20%.
I will share more data in my next post "2012 Tennessee Medical Malpractice (Health Care Liability Statistics – Part 2."