About 40% of Malpractice Claims Groundless
About 40% of the medical malpractice claims filed in the U.S. are groundless, according to a study published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the AP/Houston Chronicle reports.
For the study, researchers from Harvard University examined 1,452 malpractice claims randomly selected from five insurers that were resolved between 1984 and 2004. They also examined medical records, depositions and court transcripts to determine whether patients experienced injuries and whether those injuries resulted because of medical errors.
The study finds that 3% of the claims were filed by patients who did not experience injuries. Among patients who experienced injuries, about two-thirds resulted because of medical errors, and 73% of claims filed by those patients were settled with payment, the study finds.
In addition, among the 37% of claims filed by patients who experienced injuries that did not result because of medical errors, 72% were dismissed or resolved without payment, according to the study. In total, the claims resulted in $449 million in verdicts and settlements, and groundless claims accounted for about 15% of that amount, the study finds.
Lead study author David Studdert of the Harvard School of Public Health said, "We found the system did reasonably well in sorting the good claims from the bad ones, but there were problems."
According to American Medical Association board member Cecil Wilson, the study indicates that a large number of groundless malpractice claims are filed.
Chris Mather of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America raised concerns about the objectivity of the study because researchers examined claims information from insurers, which serve as defendants in some malpractice lawsuits (Chang, AP/Houston Chronicle, 5/10).
An abstract of the study is available online.
In a related article published in NEJM, George Annas, a bioethicist at Boston University, writes that "judicial recognition of an explicit 'right to safety' for hospital patients, with a correlative duty of hospitals to implement patient safety measures, can become the primary motivator for the development of systems to improve patient safety." He adds, "Hospitals that do not take specific actions to improve safety should be viewed as negligent and be subject to malpractice lawsuits when a violation of the right to safety results in injury" (Annas, "The Patient's Right to Safety -- Improving the Quality of Care Through Litigation Against Hospitals," NEJM, 5/11).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.