New Study Casts Doubt on Claims that the Medical Malpractice System is Plagued by Frivolous Lawsuits


Posted on Jun 30, 2006

A new study by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital has produced evidence that frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits are not widespread. Researchers analyzed more than 14,000 closed malpractice claims from five different insurance companies. Although researchers found that nearly 1/3 of claims lacked clear cut evidence of medical error, most of those cases did not receive compensation. More than 90% of the claims reviewed involved a physical injury which was generally severe, resulting in significant or major disability or death and the reviewers judge that 63% of those injuries were due to medical error. The remaining 37% lacked clear evidence of error, though some were considered to be very close calls. Of the claims that lacked clear cut evidence of medical error, 72% did not receive any compensation. According to lead author, David Studdert, Associate Professor of Law and Public Health at the Harvard School for Public Health, "Some critics have suggested that the malpractice system is inundated with groundless lawsuits, and that whether a Plaintiff recovers money is like a random 'lottery', virtually unrelated to whether the claim has merit. These findings cast doubt on that view by showing that most malpractice claims involve medical error and serious injury, and the claims with merit are far more likely to be paid than claims without merit." Studdert concluded "The malpractice system appears to be getting it right about ¾ of the time. That is far from a perfect record, but it is not bad especially considering the questions of error and negligence can be complex."

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