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Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Settlement Values Questioned

Medical malpractice lawyer speaking to juryFor those considering filing a New York medical malpractice lawsuit, a recent debate may touch on the possible value of the injury claim. The American Medical Association is butting heads with consumer group Public Citizen over the values of medical malpractice awards. According to Public Citizen, medical malpractice payments are declining even though medical errors are not.

The Public Citizen’s report views as a problem what it calls a troubling overall decline in the value of medical malpractice claims over the last 15 years. It attributes the fall in medical malpractice payments to a campaign by medical community to enact damages caps. According to the report, the majority of medical malpractice payments come not from the publicly-maligned “frivolous lawsuits” but from serious negligence that resulted in permanent injuries, including quadriplegia and brain damage, and even including death.

The report relies on data from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). Federal law requires that all payments arising from medical liability be reported to the NPDB, and the NPDB is required to make that information available to certain institutions, including hospitals and state medical licensing boards. The database also keeps track of actions implicating a physician’s license, clinical privileges, or professional memberships.

Some critics point out that malpractice payments are reported to the database even if they are without merit. There are times when a hospital or doctor’s malpractice carrier will consent to a payment to avoid further action, even against the physician’s wishes, but these payments are still reported as evidence of liability.

AMA disagrees with use of NPDB data

But according to a representative from the AMA, by relying on data from NPDB, the Public Citizen report is “inherently flawed.” According to the AMA, the Government Accountability Office has found the NPDB to be “riddled with duplicate entries, inaccurate data, and incomplete and inappropriate information.” By contrast, only one in ten medical malpractice claims went all the way through to a trial verdict, and nearly 90% of those ended in a defense verdict.

A doctor from Dartmouth College referred to the study as overly simplistic. He pointed out that an increase in reported medical and surgical errors may simply mean that errors are being better reported. The healthcare community, he argues, has spent the last decade encouraging an atmosphere of self-disclosure; by making medical errors better known, they can lead to discovery of overlooked risks and encourage preventative changes.

Public’s access to medical error data is limited

Unfortunately, the general public does not have access to the NPDB. Instead, patients and other individuals must rely on other information, like reports by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). But earlier this year, CMS halted its reporting of eight categories of errors, which it terms avoidable “hospital acquired conditions” (HACs).

Some of the HACs that CMS will no longer report include retained foreign objects – a medical error that is surprisingly common and costs hospitals, on average $100,000 – $200,000 per occurrence – surgical site infections, and blood incompatibility.

New York  medical malpractice lawyers

Whether the errors are reported or unreported, medical malpractice can lead to severely debilitating injuries and even death. If you or a loved one have injured by a medical error, contact the Long Island medical malpractice lawyers at Edelman, Krasin & Jaye for a free consultation in their New York offices. Call 1-800-469-7429 to schedule a case review where we can discuss your options.