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Attorneys bust five medical malpractice myths

Just 2% of malpractice cases go to trial

Topics: Physician Issues, Practice Management

January 28, 2013

There are "five myths of medical malpractice" that have "wide currency in medical circles" but little basis in reality, two attorneys wrote this month in Chest Journal.

Focusing on tort reform efforts in Texas, David Hyman—a physician and attorney at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign—and Charles Silver—a University of Texas attorney—attempted to debunk the five malpractice myths:

  • Increased payouts and claim frequency have caused malpractice crises. Hyman and Silver found that payouts per physician have been falling since 2003 and are now 46% less frequent than they were in 1992.

  • The tort system offers "jackpot justice." Hyman and Silver noted that just 2% of all malpractice suits go to trial, and providers win 75% of those cases.

  • Physicians are one lost lawsuit away from bankruptcy. Only physicians who are "grossly underinsure[d]" need to worry about the loss of personal assets after losing a malpractice case, the lawyers argued.

  • Physicians migrate to states that install damages caps. Hyman and Silver found mixed evidence indicating that the cap on damages would contribute to states attracting and maintaining physicians in high-risk specialties or rural areas.

  • Tort reform will lower health care spending. Hyman and Silver "found no evidence that Texas' tort reforms bent the cost curve downward," although the Texas Medical Association says tort reform improves access to care in the Lone Star State.

Commenting on the article, American Medical Association (AMA) President Jeremy Lazarus notes that the two attorneys barely examine the tort system in California, where reforms have been successful. He said in a statement, "The AMA strongly supports California's medical liability law as a model for one simple reason: it works" (Robeznieks, Modern Physician, 1/24 [subscription required]).

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