Until you personally know a victim of medical malpractice, this type of personal injury seems rare and unlikely to affect you. Unfortunately, medical malpractice is more common than many people realize.
According to statistics from the National Practitioner Data Bank, a resource created by the US Department of Health and Human Services, medical practitioners filed more than 392,000 adverse action reports between 2004 and 2014. In those same years, over 154,000 of those adverse actions resulted in medical malpractice payments to victims or their families.
Even given those numbers, you may be reluctant to pursue a medical malpractice case that involves you or someone you love. For example, many medical malpractice victims fear they’ll be denied medical treatment later if they seek compensation. In this blog, we’ll expose this myth and two other untruths about medical malpractice.
- Most Malpractice Lawsuits Deal With Small Injuries
You’ve probably heard the phrase “frivolous lawsuit.” This term refers to lawsuits that seem petty or unwinnable. For example, if a man sued his neighbor for leaving grass clippings on his driveway, that lawsuit could qualify as frivolous.
Some people believe that the majority of malpractice lawsuits also qualify as frivolous. They’ve heard that profit-motivated personal injury lawyers encourage nearly anyone who’s received medical care to sue his or her doctor for damages.
In actuality, most malpractice lawsuits deal with serious or fatal injuries. A 2006 study done at the Harvard School of Public Heath examined more than 1,400 malpractice claims. The study showed that 80% of these cases involved death or a life-altering injury. Moreover, 97% of the cases were found to have legal merit, meaning they were not frivolous claims.
- Doctors Will Refuse Treatment to People Who Filed Medical Malpractice Claims
In an interview with Forbes, Virginia-based personal injury lawyer Jason Konvicka said this belief is common among malpractice victims who choose not to file claims against their medical care providers. They worry that their current or future doctors will hear they made a claim and then refuse treatment to avoid being named in a lawsuit themselves.
However, most doctors will be unaware you are associated with a malpractice case unless you tell them, so they will unlikely refuse to treat you for that reason. Keep in mind that a privately practicing doctor can refuse treatment for reasons like having a busy practice or not accepting a patient’s insurance.
Additionally, hospitals and other medical facilities that provide emergency care cannot refuse to treat patients who require immediate attention. That protection is guaranteed by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. Because of this law, you don’t need to worry that filing a medical malpractice claim will stop you from receiving life-saving medical help.
- Malpractice Lawsuits Drive Up Healthcare Costs
This myth stems from two mistaken assumptions. Let’s examine each assumption on its own.
Some people suspect that doctors order expensive and unnecessary tests because they want to protect themselves against malpractice lawsuits.
In a 2015 survey discussed in Time Magazine, 85% of emergency room physicians admitted they sometimes order tests that will have little influence on their diagnosis. In the same survey, doctors named fear of malpractice lawsuits as one reason for ordering these tests. The Time article also reported that unnecessary tests result in $210 billion additional healthcare costs every year.
At first glance, those facts may seem to prove that malpractice lawsuits drive up healthcare costs. However, doctors may order extra tests for reasons other than fear of malpractice. For example, they could order extra tests because a patient adamantly requested them or because their medical training led them to be thorough.
Moreover, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, malpractice compensation accounts for less than 1% of America’s annual healthcare costs. So even though unnecessary tests do contribute to rising healthcare costs, malpractice lawsuits alone cannot be blamed for that price increase.
Expensive Malpractice Insurance
Second, people have argued that healthcare costs go up because doctors and hospitals want to compensate for the high price of malpractice insurance. Many people guess that malpractice insurance premiums rise every time someone files a malpractice lawsuit. This practice would be similar to an insurance company raising premiums for drivers who get in accidents.
In truth, the cost of malpractice insurance has little correlation with the number of malpractice lawsuits or the amount of compensation given to malpractice victims. Instead, malpractice insurance costs rise in the same patterns as other insurance types.
Have you heard other general statements about malpractice lawsuits? Don’t let those statements prevent you from seeking compensation for a healthcare provider’s negligence. Instead, consult a personal injury lawyer if you were or a loved one was the victim of medical malpractice. Your attorney can review your situation and help you determine the viability of your case.
To learn more about personal injury law, read our other blog posts.