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Debunking Common Fallacies about Medical Malpractice

November 18, 2013

Medical malpractice insurance carriers, the American Medical Association and others who support tort reform have promoted a broad spectrum of misinformation and myths designed to discourage injury victims from bring medical malpractice claims. This misinformation often amounts to the representation that skilled doctors who have competently performed medical procedures are forced to settle "frivolous" lawsuits to avoid the cost of litigation. In reality, this stereotype perpetrated in the media by those who wish to avoid imposing liability on medical professionals is rooted in false assumptions. Our Atlanta medical malpractice attorneys at Montlick and Associates have exposed some of these myths in this blog post.

Myth No. 1: The vast majority of medical malpractice claims are frivolous attempts to extort doctors with deep pockets.

Because medical malpractice claims are much more difficult to successfully pursue, those claims that are actually accepted by medical malpractice lawyers are more likely to have merit than a typical non-medical injury claim. A study conducted by researchers at Harvard University that covered 1,400 medical malpractice claims found that 97 percent of those claims had merit. Further, eighty percent of these closed claims involved a patient who died or suffered a serious injury. One reason for this is that bringing these cases are very expensive in terms of attorney time, and out of pocket expenses advanced by law firms, so a firm cannot afford to take on a case that does not have merit.

Myth No. 2: Lawsuits that allege medical malpractice are not focused on doctors who pose a risk to the public.

The American Association for Justice reports that just six percent of medical professionals account for sixty percent of all medical malpractice claims.

Myth No. 3: Most medical errors that result in the injury or death of a patient could not reasonably have been avoided.

A study published in the prestigious Journal of Patient Safety revealed that 440,000 people per year die from preventable medical errors and hundreds of thousands more suffer serious injury. Medical malpractice resulting in fatalities that could have been prevented constitutes the third leading cause of death in the U.S. according to the study, which means that there are in excess of fourteen times more deaths from medical errors that could have been avoided than from crashes involving vehicles. While some adverse outcomes occur even when doctors utilize best practices, there are many medical errors that occur from easily avoided mistakes, such as amputation of the wrong leg. While it may be hard to imagine, this type of egregious medical error is common, the Joint Commission Center on Transforming Healthcare indicates that there may be as many as 173 wrong side, wrong patient, wrong site surgeries performed throughout the U.S. every month.

Myth No. 4: The courts are flooded with medical malpractice lawsuits that far exceed the number of actual medical errors by medical professionals.

Studies of tort claims reveal that tort claims only constitute six percent of the caseload in the civil court system with medical malpractice claims comprising only three percent of all tort claims according to a report published by the National Center for State Courts. Further, the number of medical malpractice claims has consistently declined during a recent ten year period by eight percent. Despite the relatively small number of medical malpractice claims, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement reports that there are fifteen million medical errors that cause injury annually. In reality, there are only a tiny number of medical malpractice lawsuits compared to the number of erros.

Myth No. 5: Most members of the public drastically overestimate the frequency of medical errors or omissions.

Although a third of all respondents in a survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that they or a family member had been victimized by a medical mistake, half of the respondents estimated that the number of medical malpractice fatalities was 5,000 or less each year.

Myth No. 6: The high number of enormous payouts and costs of defending medical malpractice lawsuits is driving up the cost of health care.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners reports that the total cost associated with defending medical malpractice claims and compensating injured patients constitutes only three percent of our total health care costs. Because costs associated with medical malpractice claims are such a miniscule portion of the total costs associated with the health care system, further restrictions on medical malpractice claims would not significantly reduce health care insurance premiums or consumer health care costs.

Myth No. 7: The threat of liability in medical malpractice claims is causing physicians to flee from the profession.

Statistics from the American Medical Association (AMA) reveal that the number of physicians has consistently risen annually throughout every state in the U.S. each year. There are more than twice as many doctors per capita than there were during the 1960s. Further, an analysis of this data provided by the American Association of Justice reveals that the per capita number of doctors is thirteen percent higher in states without medical malpractice caps enacted as part of the push for tort reform.

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If you or your family member suffers an injury because of negligence by a medical professional, our Atlanta medical malpractice attorneys at Montlick and Associates have been representing injury victims for over thirty years throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you.

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Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.