3/17/2005

The fake malpractice "crisis"

From the Tallahassee Democrat:
A comprehensive study of medical malpractice claims in Florida since 1990 shows no sharp increase in lawsuits relative to population growth and a modest increase in the size of settlements, according to two Duke University professors. (One of the study's authors) said the data in the study came from public records filed at the Florida Department of Health since 1975, when a law was passed to require medical malpractice insurance companies to file extensive information annually on claims. The medical malpractice controversy has been a hardy perennial in the Legislature. After intense lobbying by insurers and doctors and a special session in 2003, lawmakers passed a bill that placed caps on damage awards in medical malpractice cases in hopes of stemming insurance rate increases. And last November, voters approved three constitutional amendments dealing with the issue...Trial lawyers say the number of lawsuits and the size of awards have not increased enough to justify premium increases sought by insurers. The Duke study shows that average awards, in 2003 dollars, have increased from $176,603 in 1990 to $300,280 in 2003...Finally, the report concludes the "vast majority of million-dollar awards were settled around the negotiation table rather than in the jury room." Of the 831 million-dollar awards reported since 1990, 63 were awarded by juries. The rest occurred as settlements. Of the 37 claims that received awards of $5 million or more, only two claims went before a jury - the rest were the result of settlements. "At this stage," the report says, "debate about the role of juries in so-called 'mega' awards is misplaced insofar as Florida is concerned." The study comes on the heels of a similar report from the University of Texas that was released last week. Assembled by four law professors, the Texas study mirrored the Duke report. "The rapid changes in insurance premiums that sparked the crisis appear to reflect market dynamics, largely disconnected from claim outcomes," the report said.

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