We have all seen it in the news; a jury returns a massive multi-million-dollar payout in a medical malpractice case. We are often left to wonder how common these huge payouts are and what the average person can expect from his or her medical malpractice claim. The following will explore the basics of medical malpractice law, look into the states with the most significant medical malpractice payouts, and examine how many medical malpractice lawsuits are successful.
What is Medical Malpractice Law?
Historically, medical malpractice law comes from the English common law of torts. The word “tort” is a Norman word for “wrong.” Even as early as 1200 AD, Roman Law recognized a specific kind of legal wrong when a physician or healer negligently injured another person. In the United States, the law has developed by local state court legal doctrines over time to allow for a specific kind of tort — medical malpractice.
Medical malpractice is one area of tort law within the umbrella of civil litigation. The essence of a medical malpractice claim is that a healthcare professional, hospital, or doctor caused an injury to a patient by his negligent or reckless act or omission (failure to act).
In other words, if a doctor acts negligently and thereby causes the patient an injury, he or she can be held liable and required to pay monetary compensation to the injured patient. Conversely, if a doctor negligently fails to act and that failure to act causes a patient injury, he or she can be held liable. State courts are the proper venue in which to hear medical malpractice lawsuits, typically in the geographical location where the injury to the patient occurred.
What do I Need to Prove for a Successful Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
A successful plaintiff will need to prove that the doctor or medical practitioner breached the standard of care with his or her negligent act or omission. Under tort law, all people must act as a reasonable person would under the same circumstances in order to prevent another person from being injured.
In medical malpractice law, this standard is elevated. The law recognizes that doctors have specialized knowledge and training. Thus, doctors are required to act as a reasonable doctor would in the same geographic location, typically in an urban or suburban area. If the doctor is a board-certified specialist, the courts hold him or her to the standard of care of a reasonable board-certified physician with that specialty in the United States.
The plaintiff must claim that the doctor’s negligence or carelessness caused his or her injury. The plaintiff must prove that, but for the doctor’s negligence, he or she would not have suffered an injury. The plaintiff must also demonstrate that the damage was a foreseeable consequence of the doctor’s negligence. Determining this can be a bit tricky in some cases, and it can be difficult to show that it was the doctor’s negligence that caused the injury, and not another factor. Expert witnesses come into play to help decipher exactly what caused the patient’s injury.
Finally, the plaintiff must prove that the injury caused by the doctor’s negligence resulted in damages. Due to the significant expense of medical malpractice cases, the plaintiff should be satisfied that the injury is significant to warrant a large enough payout to cover the costs of the lawsuit. As mentioned above, medical malpractice suits require an expert of many medical experts and many hours of legal work. The plaintiff must show that his injury has resulted in the loss of income, unusual physical pain, pain and suffering, disability, or costly past and present medical bills.
What are Some Common Examples of Specific Medical Malpractice Claims?
- Failure to correctly diagnose the patient.
- The doctor negligently interpreted laboratory testing results.
- The doctor provided negligent aftercare or patient follow-up.
- The doctor released the patient too early after surgery or a procedure.
- The doctor negligently failed to order the right medical testing.
- The surgeon committed a negligent error in surgery.
- The doctor negligently gave the patient an incorrect dosage of medication.
- The doctor negligently failed to take a thorough patient history.
Which States Have the Largest Medical Malpractice Payouts?
In 2018, the five states with the largest payouts of medical malpractice were as follows:
- New York: $685.3 million
- Pennsylvania: $369 million
- Florida: $346.9 million
- California: $269.2 million
- New Jersey: $226.7 million
The states with the lowest total amount of compensation paid out per lawsuit were the following: North Dakota, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Washington D.C., North Carolina, Arkansas, Idaho, and Tennessee.
The type of medical malpractice that paid out the most was:
- Negligent Diagnosis (34.1%)
- Negligent medical treatment (21.1%)
- Negligence during surgery (21.4%)
- Negligence in Obstetrics (10.3%)
Negligence in administering medication, anesthesia, monitoring, equipment, behavioral health, and blood products constituted 5% each or less of the total claims that received a payout.
This study also measured the severity of the injuries caused by medical malpractice. 29.7% of the injuries ended in death. 18.7% of the negligence cases resulted in significant permanent disability, and 18.7% resulted in substantial permanent damage.
How Many Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Succeed?
CBS News recently reported that the rate of successful medical malpractice lawsuits that resulted in a payout to the victim had dropped nearly 56% during 1992 and 2014. Nonetheless, the average payout topped $353,000 from 2009-2014. Thus, the average payout rose almost 23% since 1992. This report found that the most common negligent act on the part of healthcare professionals was a diagnostic error that resulted in the patient’s death or severe injury.
Instances of medical malpractice occur more often than they should in every state across the country. Have you been injured by the negligence of a medical doctor or health care provider? Contact experienced medical malpractice attorneys today to receive expert legal assistance with your claim.