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Insurance payouts for medical malpractice: some data points

For years, the medical industry has tried to depict itself as besieged by too many medical malpractice lawsuits.

It's been the type of talking point that tends to stick around, even when it is directly contradicted by the evidence.

In this post, we will take note of some actual data on payouts in medical malpractice cases. This should help provide perspective on the myth that there are too many lawsuits.

Of course, to dispel this myth it is also necessary to recognize how frequent medical mistakes are. Fortunately, estimates of the national number of lives list to medical mistakes have become part of the national conversation in recent years.

These estimates have followed in the wake of the Institute of Medicine's famous report in November 1999 that estimated the death toll from medical errors in the tens of thousands per year. That report was called "To Err Is Human."

But what about payouts from actual medical malpractice suits? What can be learned from that data?

There is data available on this from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). To be sure, there are limitations in this data. It does not include, for example, suits that are filed only against hospitals and do not name specific medical practitioners as defendants.

Still, the data is instructive in several senses.

First, the data show the remarkably large percentage of med mal payouts that come from settlements. In 2013, it was 96 percent.

This overwhelmingly high percentage says something about the difficulties of going to trial - not just for plaintiffs, but for defendants as well.

There is also data available from the NPDB on per-capital payouts by state. New Mexico's figure of $13.70 in 2013 was lower than numerous other states. And it was virtually unchanged from 2012.

Source: Forbes, "The Puzzle of Medical Malpractice Payouts," Michael Krauss, March 27, 2014

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