Medical Malpractice: By The Numbers

Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are killed or injured by avoidable medical errors.  And yet, very few injured patients file medical malpractice lawsuits.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the patient in 19.9 percent of harms. In other words, only 1 patient of every 5 patients who is harmed by medical error ever files suit.  This study and other updated research on the subject of medical malpractice can be found in the newly updated Medical Malpractice: By the Numbers published by the Center for Justice & Democracy.

There are other studies that suggest the multiple is really much higher.  The Harvard Medical Practice Study reported an estimated ratio of adverse event to malpractice claims of 7.6 to 1.  Other studies have estimated that as few as 2% to 3% of patients who have been harmed pursue litigation.

Because the multiple is so low, it has been argued that hospitals and doctors do NOT expect to bear the full cost of harms caused by their own negligence.  In effect, they do not experience the full consequences of the harms they cause.

Would MORE lawsuits improve patient safety?  Consider a 2012 study that shows that malpractice lawsuits play an important role in patient safety efforts as a source of relevant information about medical error.  That study concluded “lawsuits reveal allegations of medical negligence and other patient safety issues about which hospitals were previously unaware”.

Maybe MORE medical malpractice lawsuits are needed to motivate hospitals and doctors to take patients safety more seriously.

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