Study from USC and Harvard describes typical malpractice claim duration and result
Reuters News Agency reported on a new study published jointly by the University of Southern California and Harvard University and other contributors. The study evaluated approximately 10,000 malpractice claims from all fifty states between the years 2002 and 2005. Potential claims involving an adverse event where no defense cost was incurred were excluded. Thus the study included every event where a health care provider or claimant reported an adverse event and some expenditure was made to investigate.
The results help to define the profile of malpractice litigation in the U.S., although it must be remembered that the standard for pursuing these claims varies in all fifty states, with some states having adopted "malpractice reforms" while other states have not. Further, the extent of the "reforms" adopted varies greatly by state: in Michigan, for example, "reformers" have gone as far as to seek complete immunity for errors committed in the treatment of Emergency Room patients; no other state would provide this form of protection for doctors or hospitals. Thus, this snap-shot of malpractice claim management is not precisely accurate for any given jurisdiction.The physician authors of the report were quoted to the effect that "Medical malpractice is necessary...because there are clearly cases where patients are harmed by negligent care." To the extent that they reported any other "value" judgments, they emphasized the slow pace of resolving all claims, whether meritorious or not. They pointed out that about 55% of claims resulted in litigation. Of these litigated claims, a little over half were dismissed by the court without reaching a jury trial. About one-third were "resolved" before trial [presumably meaning "settled" by mutual consent].
Almost one-half of litigated claims against pathologists or pediatricians were "resolved" before trial. The authors attributed this to a balancing of sympathies when a child is involved, in the case of pediatricians, and to the fact that pathology claims are inherently more scientific and inherently more "black and white" in post-analysis, due to the presence of preserved tissue samples and tests.
Only about 5% of claims went to trial, and of these about 80% resulted in a verdict for the health care provider. This number is similar to the estimate derived by other, previous studies. Thus, health care providers win 4 of 5 cases that their insurers actually choose to try, despite the fact that a court has deemed the case to be strong enough and sufficiently well-supported or documented to require a full trial on the merits (usually, as in Michigan, it also means that the victim has provided medical testimony confirming the victim's claim is legitimate and meritorious).
The average time to closure for all claims was 19 months; however, the average time to a successful outcome for the patient was 43.5 months.