Many people are under the impression that medical malpractice cases are a common occurrence. Because of news coverage of the occasional high-profile case, it is easy to assume that doctors are constantly facing claims of malpractice. But in reality, most acts of negligence in a medical setting don‘t result in a malpractice lawsuit.
While medical misdiagnoses and surgical errors are fairly common, only a small percentage of people actually respond by pursuing legal action. This is partially due to victims not knowing their rights. They do not understand that they have the option to pursue a lawsuit. It is also due to the significant challenge that any malpractice case faces—they are often difficult to win. Proving malpractice can be very challenging, and the caps on potential payouts from a successful lawsuit are often so low that pursuing legal action cannot be justified from a financial standpoint.
Reviewing these eye-opening statistics, both for Indiana medical malpractice and the nation as a whole, can be helpful when trying to understand the current state of negligent medical care as it relates to the legal system.
National Malpractice Statistics
- The third most common cause of death in the United States is medical errors. It is estimated that around 225,000 people die each year from some form of medical malpractice ( “A New, Evidence-Based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care”).
- A surprisingly small number of people pursue legal action when they are a victim of medical malpractice. It is estimated that currently, only 2% of victims pursue a case (Communication gaffes: A root cause of malpractice claims).
- Medication errors are experienced by 1.5 million patients each year, according to The Institute of Medicine (Preventing Medication Errors: Quality Chasm Series).
- The US Bureau of Justice Statistics states about half of all the medical malpractice cases that patients pursue are against their surgeons. (Bureau of Justice Statistics: Civil Justice Data Brief).
- Five percent of doctors account for 54 percent of the payouts for medical malpractice cases, according to the National Practitioner Data Bank. (Public Citizen: Quick Facts on Medical Malpractice Issues).
Indiana Medical Malpractice Statistics
- On average since 1990, around 940 claims of medical malpractice are filed every year in Indiana. (Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund, 2012 Annual Report).
- Since 2003, the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund has paid to resolve between 130–175 claims of medical negligence each year. (Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund, 2012 Annual Report). When a claim has been paid by the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund, a healthcare provider’s liability for medical negligence is considered admitted and established or a jury has returned a verdict that medical negligence occurred.
- The Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund in 2012 paid to resolve 173 claims and in 2013, 494 claims, of medical negligence on behalf of injured patients. (Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund, 2012 Annual Report; Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund, 2013 Annual Report).
- Indiana has a $1.25 million cap on the amount of total damages that a victim can pursue in a medical malpractice claim for any injury that occurred after June 30, 1999 (Indiana Code, Chapter 34-18-14). The last increase in the total damage amounts was enacted in 1999.
- Check out www.indianapcf.com to review the number of times a specific Indiana doctor has been sued and the results of medical-review panel findings.
As some of these malpractice statistics demonstrate, medical errors are more common–and more dangerous–than many people realize. The number of medical errors occurring within the US healthcare system is staggering, and should be a concern that is dealt with openly and with a desire to improve patient safety and treat victims of preventable errors fairly.