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Misconceptions of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

March 9, 2015

A significant number of Americans believe most medical malpractice lawsuits are unfair or without merit (“frivolous lawsuit” is the catchphrase Karl Rove and the huge billion-dollar insurance conglomerates have infused into the American vernacular since early 1990s).    Reality is over 97% of medical malpractice lawsuits have strong legal and factual merit. A Harvard University study in 2006 by its School of Public Health examined 1,452 closed medical malpractice lawsuits in the United States and found nearly all had strong merit.[1]

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Misconception: Immunizing Doctors from Lawsuits Does Not Reduce Medical Costs

A study the New England Journal of Medicine published in October 2014[2] found that changing laws to make it more difficult to sue physicians for malpractice had no effect on medical care.  The researchers looked at the behavior of emergency physicians in three states that passed laws making emergency doctors virtually immune from lawsuits.  The three states, Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas, about a decade ago raised the standard a patient must prove to win a case from negligence / failure to exercise reasonable care to a standard where the doctors must consciously disregard safety knowing their actions will likely cause serious injury, e.g., “willful and wanton” or “grossly negligence.”  These claimed reforms “provide virtual immunity against lawsuits,” said Daniel A. Waxman MD the study’s lead author and researcher and an emergency medicine physician at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The study found giving physicians immunity from lawsuits provided no benefit to citizens getting medical care and no reduction in patient costs (when compared to states without physician immunity).  The strong new legal protections did not translate into less-expensive care for patients, as insurers and medical proponents have long promised.

Misconception: Greedy Plaintiff Attorneys Are Behind Most Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

The truth is experienced plaintiff medical malpractice attorneys are cautious, review hundreds of claims carefully and thoroughly to ensure merit before accepting one, and are highly selective.  Medical malpractice attorneys representing patients reject, on average, more than 95% of requests for representation.  While many of the claims of patients have strong merit, the out-of-pocket costs necessary to prepare any medical malpractice claim (e.g., medical experts, depositions, travel, filing fees, etc.) are typically $50,000 to $100,000 so most claims are not economically viable to prosecute.  This is true particularly in Michigan, a state that has laws capping (putting an artificially-low ceiling) on recoverable noneconomic damages in medical cases.

Misconception: a Patient’s Motivation for Filing a Lawsuit is Money

This myth is also untrue.  Between 2003 and 2008, money paid out in medical malpractice lawsuits dropped by 50%.  In Michigan, noneconomic damages (e.g., paralysis, disfigurement, lost enjoyment of life, pain, etc.) are arbitrarily limited and the existence of the cap is withheld from jurors.  The maximum a patient can recover for noneconomic harms and losses is $444,900, except in cases of paralysis from brain or spinal cord injury, permanent-cognitive impairment, or complete loss of the ability to have children where the limit is slightly more.  Any jury award in excess of the cap must be automatically reduced by the court.

The Harvard University study found some patients pursue medical claims to find out why care went wrong because healthcare professionals don’t tell them.

Misconception: Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Do Not Target Dangerous Doctors, They Burden Most

A common misconception is medical malpractice lawsuits burden most health professionals, and do not target the dangerous minority.   In truth, between 1991 and 2005, 6% of physicians were responsible for 60% of malpractice payments.  Breaking down that 6%, every one of the doctors was found liable of medical negligence twice, 2.3% were found liable 3 times, and 1.1% were found liable four times.  Medical malpractice lawsuits hold dangerous doctors responsible for their needless endangerment and successfully target those who continue to harm patients.

Misconception: Malpractice Lawsuits Outnumber Actual Malpractice

This is another falsehood.  Only 1 of 8 people injured by medical malpractice brings a claim.  Though people believe medical errors are rare occurrences, they are common.  The Journal of Patient Safety reported in 2013 medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in America, trailing only heart disease and cancer.  Between 210,000 and 440,000 hospital patients each year suffer a preventable harm in a hospital causing or contributing to their death.  Though malpractice is common, lawsuit are rare.  And, they do not clog American courtrooms (e.g., only 3% of civil cases are for medical malpractice).

Plaintiff medical malpractice attorneys are patient advocates.  If you or a loved one recently suffered injury or death resulting from a medical error, the most important thing to remember is you must act quickly and contacting an experienced medical malpractice attorney.  Michigan law especially does a poor job protecting people injured by medical professionals and any delay in seeking legal help results in losing your rights. Contact us or another experienced medical malpractice attorney right away.

At Buchanan Firm, our combined legal-medical team has decades of experience handling medical malpractice cases. We also have medical professionals on staff to talk with you and review your claim. We quickly and efficiently assess the medical facts and take immediate action to protect your rights.  We are patients’ advocates.


[1] Harvard School of Public Health, May 10, 2006 http://archive.sph.harvard.edu/press-releases/2006-releases/press05102006.html

[2] The New England Journal of Medicine, V. 371, No. 16, Oct. 2014, p. 1518-1525 http://www.rand.org/pubs/external_publications/EP66194.html