"...[J]ust a tiny fraction of the patients harmed by medical mistakes actually file claims."
Perhaps doctors would make fewer tragic mistakes if they were held accountable more often.
Study: Only 1 in 5 malpractice cases see payout
By MIKE STOBBE
The Associated Press
August 17, 2011
Only 1 in 5 malpractice claims against doctors leads to a settlement or other payout, according to the most comprehensive study of these claims in two decades.
But while doctors and their insurers may be winning most of these challenges, that’s still a lot of fighting. Each year about 1 in 14 doctors gets sued, and most physicians and virtually every surgeon will face at least one malpractice lawsuit in their careers, the study found.
That represents a significant emotional cost for doctors, said study co-author Amitabh Chandra, an economist and professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government
"They hate having their name dragged through the local newspaper and having to go to court," he said.
The study might seem to support a common opinion among doctors that most malpractice lawsuits are baseless, but the authors said the truth is more complicated than that.
They noted influential earlier research in New York state concluding that just a tiny fraction of the patients harmed by medical mistakes actually file claims.
Trial lawyers say it’s tough to take a malpractice case to court. Suits tend to be filed on contingency, meaning lawyers collect only if they win. There are very high up-front costs for hiring expert witnesses and preparing a case. Doctors, hospitals and their insurers often have significant money and legal firepower. Some states also have caps on malpractice awards. So, usually, only very strong cases with high expected payouts are pursued.
Given the expense and other difficulties involved in winning, it’s doubtful most claims are filed on a greedy whim, the researchers said.