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      Claims, errors, and compensation payments in medical malpractice litigation.

      The New England journal of medicine

      Adolescent, Adult, Aged, Child, Child, Preschool, Compensation and Redress, legislation & jurisprudence, Costs and Cost Analysis, Female, Humans, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Lawyers, Liability, Legal, economics, Male, Malpractice, statistics & numerical data, Medical Errors, Middle Aged, Retrospective Studies, United States

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          Abstract

          In the current debate over tort reform, critics of the medical malpractice system charge that frivolous litigation--claims that lack evidence of injury, substandard care, or both--is common and costly. Trained physicians reviewed a random sample of 1452 closed malpractice claims from five liability insurers to determine whether a medical injury had occurred and, if so, whether it was due to medical error. We analyzed the prevalence, characteristics, litigation outcomes, and costs of claims that lacked evidence of error. For 3 percent of the claims, there were no verifiable medical injuries, and 37 percent did not involve errors. Most of the claims that were not associated with errors (370 of 515 [72 percent]) or injuries (31 of 37 [84 percent]) did not result in compensation; most that involved injuries due to error did (653 of 889 [73 percent]). Payment of claims not involving errors occurred less frequently than did the converse form of inaccuracy--nonpayment of claims associated with errors. When claims not involving errors were compensated, payments were significantly lower on average than were payments for claims involving errors (313,205 dollars vs. 521,560 dollars, P=0.004). Overall, claims not involving errors accounted for 13 to 16 percent of the system's total monetary costs. For every dollar spent on compensation, 54 cents went to administrative expenses (including those involving lawyers, experts, and courts). Claims involving errors accounted for 78 percent of total administrative costs. Claims that lack evidence of error are not uncommon, but most are denied compensation. The vast majority of expenditures go toward litigation over errors and payment of them. The overhead costs of malpractice litigation are exorbitant. Copyright 2006 Massachusetts Medical Society.

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          Most cited references 13

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          Relation between malpractice claims and adverse events due to negligence. Results of the Harvard Medical Practice Study III.

          By matching the medical records of a random sample of 31,429 patients hospitalized in New York State in 1984 with statewide data on medical-malpractice claims, we identified patients who had filed claims against physicians and hospitals. These results were then compared with our findings, based on a review of the same medical records, regarding the incidence of injuries to patients caused by medical management (adverse events). We identified 47 malpractice claims among 30,195 patients' records located on our initial visits to the hospitals, and 4 claims among 580 additional records located during follow-up visits. The overall rate of claims per discharge (weighted) was 0.13 percent (95 percent confidence interval, 0.076 to 0.18 percent). Of the 280 patients who had adverse events caused by medical negligence as defined by the study protocol, 8 filed malpractice claims (weighted rate, 1.53 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 0 to 3.2 percent). By contrast, our estimate of the statewide ratio of adverse events caused by negligence (27,179) to malpractice claims (3570) is 7.6 to 1. This relative frequency overstates the chances that a negligent adverse event will produce a claim, however, because most of the events for which claims were made in the sample did not meet our definition of adverse events due to negligence. Medical-malpractice litigation infrequently compensates patients injured by medical negligence and rarely identifies, and holds providers accountable for, substandard care.
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            Learning from malpractice claims about negligent, adverse events in primary care in the United States.

            The epidemiology, risks, and outcomes of errors in primary care are poorly understood. Malpractice claims brought for negligent adverse events offer a useful insight into errors in primary care. Physician Insurers Association of America malpractice claims data (1985-2000) were analyzed for proportions of negligent claims by primary care specialty, setting, severity, health condition, and attributed cause. We also calculated risks of a claim for condition-specific negligent events relative to the prevalence of those conditions in primary care. Of 49345 primary care claims, 26126 (53%) were peer reviewed and 5921 (23%) were assessed as negligent; 68% of claims were for negligent events in outpatient settings. No single condition accounted for more than 5% of all negligent claims, but the underlying causes were more clustered with "diagnosis error" making up one third of claims. The ratios of condition-specific negligent event claims relative to the frequency of those conditions in primary care revealed a significantly disproportionate risk for a number of conditions (for example, appendicitis was 25 times more likely to generate a claim for negligence than breast cancer). Claims data identify conditions and processes where primary health care in the United States is prone to go awry. The burden of severe outcomes and death from malpractice claims made against primary care physicians was greater in primary care outpatient settings than in hospitals. Although these data enhance information about error related negligent events in primary care, particularly when combined with other primary care data, there are many operating limitations.
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              Relation between negligent adverse events and the outcomes of medical-malpractice litigation.

              We have previously shown that in New York State the initiation of malpractice suits correlates poorly with the actual occurrence of adverse events (injuries resulting from medical treatment) and negligence. There is little information on the outcome of such lawsuits, however. To assess the ability of malpractice litigation to make accurate determinations, we studied 51 malpractice suits to identify factors that predict payment to plaintiffs. Among malpractice claims that we reviewed independently in an earlier study, we identified 51 litigated claims and followed them over a 10-year period to determine whether the malpractice insurer had closed the case. We obtained detailed summaries of the cases from the insurers and reviewed the litigation files if the outcome of a case differed from the outcome predicted in our original review. Of the 51 malpractice cases, 46 had been closed as of December 31, 1995. Among these cases, 10 of 24 that we originally identified as involving no adverse event were settled for the plaintiffs (mean payment, $28,760), as were 6 of 13 cases classified as involving adverse events but no negligence (mean payment, $98,192) and 5 of 9 cases in which adverse events due to negligence were found in our assessment (mean payment, $66,944). Seven of eight claims involving permanent disability were settled for the plaintiffs (mean payment, $201,250). In a multivariate analysis, disability (permanent vs. temporary or none) was the only significant predictor of payment (P=0.03). There was no association between the occurrence of an adverse event due to negligence (P = 0.32) or an adverse event of any type (P=0.79) and payment. Among the malpractice claims we studied, the severity of the patient's disability, not the occurrence of an adverse event or an adverse event due to negligence, was predictive of payment to the plaintiff.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                16687715
                10.1056/NEJMsa054479

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