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8 Common Myths About Medical Malpractice

Legally Reviewed and Edited by: Terry Cochran

Medical malpractice cases and the need for medical malpractice attorneys in the United States, despite their legitimacy, are continually doubted, mythologized, and undermined by large insurance companies and other institutions.

But what many don’t realize is that malpractice claims are an integral part of maintaining a high standard of care in the United States and holding healthcare institutions to account for the care they administer.

Casting doubt on a patient’s right to proper care and stigmatizing the work of medical malpractice attorneys is therefore harmful both to the victim of the case and any patients who fall victim to neglectful care at that the hands of that same institution thereafter.

At Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., we take the concept of upholding medical standards through the civil justice system seriously. That is why we work tirelessly to dispel the common myths that aim to delegitimize malpractice claims, undermine victims of negligent care, and attack the vital efforts of lawyers specializing in medical malpractice.

1. Medical malpractice claims raise insurance premiums and the cost of healthcare in the US

One of the leading arguments that is directed at the work of malpractice lawyers is that the pursuit of a malpractice case results in insurance companies raising their premiums, which then results in increases in the cost healthcare across the country.

While it is certainly true that healthcare costs are rising rapidly in Michigan and across the United States, the conspiracy that seeks to link this issue to malpractice claims is a misleading and false attempt to vilify malpractice cases by turning the broader American public into a wrongful victim.

Increases in insurance correlate not according to one factor, but many factors that affect the economic cycle of the insurance industry. Rates fluctuate according to population growth, population aging, disease prevalence and incidence, medical service utilization rates, and the rising cost of service prices, due largely to the increase in the cost of pharmaceuticals.

As healthcare costs have continued to steadily rise since the 1970s, cases of malpractice have actually decreased. Correlating the number of malpractice claims to the cost of healthcare in the US would actually result in an inverse correlation.

This effectively means that it is illogical to designate malpractice claims as a causal factor in the rise of insurance premiums.

2. Medical errors are rare

Unfortunately, the notion that legitimate medical errors occur rarely is false. In fact, in 2016, the Institute of Medicine published a report that indicated that between 44,000 and 98,000 patients die each year in the United States as a result of preventable adverse events in healthcare facilities or at the hands of healthcare providers.

To put that number into perspective and understand its magnitude, we simply need to compare it to the annual number of deaths due to fatal car accidents in the US, which has remained at approximately 40,000 over the past three years.

The cost of these preventable medical errors totals nearly 19.5 billion dollars, while the cost of medical malpractice insurance for the American taxpayers maxes out at around $1.9 billion.

Rather than placing the burden of this difference back on taxpayers in Michigan, pursuing a medical malpractice claim puts that burden of the cost back on the individuals who caused the initial harm.

3. Medical malpractice attorneys pursue claims for the money

The claim that a medical malpractice attorney will pursue any case that is put before them to achieve a cut of the resulting settlement is false.

A large part of a medical malpractice attorney’s job is taking the time to evaluate a plaintiff’s claim and determine whether it has merit. This work usually takes place during an initial consultation, which a top medical malpractice attorney will typically offer free of charge.

Despite claims to the contrary, malpractice lawyers in Michigan cannot pursue any case they would like to in order to achieve a settlement. This is because Michigan law restricts attorneys from pursuing a claim that does not demonstrate two factors necessary to deem it an instance of malpractice or negligence: a breach in the standard of care and significant damage that was caused by that breach.

Furthermore, in contrast to the “money-grubbing lawyer” stereotype, a lawyer typically has to invest up to $50,000 of the firm’s funds to pursue a medical malpractice case.

While pursuing claims is, of course, a lawyer’s livelihood, consider this: We don’t often look at other professions, such as that of a doctor, and assume they administer surgeries and medicine for their own intentions.

Medical malpractice lawyers are people with core values who work to advocate for those individuals who have fallen victim to medical malpractice and help them get back on their feet after a devastating injury.

4. A plaintiff’s primary motivation for pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit is to make a quick buck

Despite the stereotype, it is important to remember that the majority of malpractice claims pursued in the US are not the catastrophic, million-dollar claims that we read about in the papers.

The fact is, while a plaintiff may sue for a certain amount, it is the jury that awards damages based off evidence and the damages incurred.

In Michigan, this amount is capped by Michigan state law. For non-economic damages – or instances of malpractice that resulted in pain and suffering – a plaintiff can be awarded no more than $445,500. In instances of medical malpractice that resulted in paralysis or the loss of cognitive or reproductive ability, the cap is set at $795,000.

While these sums may seem substantial in writing, when contrasting the cost of a typical in-patient stay in the US and considering the fact that malpractice cases can result in the need for life-long treatment, the amount becomes less impressive. Add to this the nearly 70% of awarded damages are then further reduced by the court, and the sum becomes pitiful.

Finally, the Civil Justice Resource Group reports there is a four to one ratio of the total malpractice premiums in comparison to the total economic loss that victims of medical malpractice suffer in the US each year. This means that negligent healthcare providers can avoid 80% of the financial damage that their sub-standard care inflicted on patients.

Though achieving some sort of “jackpot” payout in a medical malpractice claim is not a motivation for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit, there is a leading motivation for filing: the lack of information and communication provided on behalf of the service provider.

In fact, in a report published by The Risk and Management Foundation of the Harvard Medical Institution, researchers found that miscommunication contributed to nearly 30% of the cases of malpractice that were filed in 2015 in the United States.

This indicates that many patients are filing not because they want to receive funds, despite the devastating cost of healthcare in the US. Rather, they file to find the answers they are looking for after damages have been inflicted on themselves or a loved one, and healthcare providers have failed to provide straightforward answers.

The breakdowns in communication that were analyzed in the report included both face-to-face conversations, electronic exchanges, and clinical notation misinterpretation, resulting in 7,149 cases of miscommunication and $1.7 billion worth of total incurred losses.

5. Doctors in Michigan are leaving the state because of malpractice verdicts

According to the Center for Health Professions at the Michigan Health Council, the number of practicing physicians in Michigan is not decreasing; It is increasing at a rate of 5% per 100,000 population per year. This results in the addition of nearly 1,500 physicians to the workforce every five years.

This misconception is likely caused by other states across the country that are experiencing a slight depletion of practicing physicians due to their lack of an implemented medical malpractice award sum cap.

6. Medical malpractice lawsuits target innocent healthcare professionals and not just those who are dangerous

One commonly held misconception about malpractice and negligence cases is that malpractice claims unfairly target healthcare professionals who have not committed any infringement.

In reality, statistics show that malpractice claims are relatively concentrated towards a very small percentage of doctors. A 15-year study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that a mere 6% of the physicians implicated in malpractice cases that resulted in payout were responsible for 60% of payouts awarded.

Each healthcare provider belonging to that 6% had been responsible for a malpractice claim twice, 2.3% had been found liable three times, and 1.1% had been charged with malpractice or negligence a total of four times.

These statistics demonstrate that malpractice claims help us to single out and punish physicians who are providing negligent care that does not meet the necessary standard of care in the US.

7. In the United States, medical malpractice claims outnumber the actual number of medical malpractice incidences

In the US, the media, large insurance companies, and television dramas lead us to believe that medical errors occur relatively seldom in the healthcare field.

Unfortunately, this is far from the truth that is presented in annual statistics concerning medical errors and adverse events. According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, preventable harm is now a public health care crisis, and even conservative estimates place it as a leading cause of death in the United States annually.

Also, despite calls for reform concerning patient safety, efforts and improvements thus far have remained limited and inconsistent in impact. This indicates that many preventable harm cases that occur may be attributed to broader systemic issues within the US health system.

However, despite the relatively common nature of preventable harm cases, medical malpractice cases themselves are comparatively uncommon. Reports show that only one of every four individuals that suffer medical negligence will file a medical malpractice claim, and medical malpractice lawsuits account for less than 1% of the total number of civil caseloads in the US each year.

8. Doctors in the US can no longer afford to practice because of rising malpractice insurance rates

In the United States, doctors and other healthcare providers are required by law to carry medical liability insurance. This ensures that, in cases of malpractice, patients are protected and be compensated.

For this reason, to imply that a doctor who has acted negligently is driven to ruin and required to pay out of pocket for a medical malpractice claim is false, and it is another case of misplaced victimhood. While the doctor may, of course, suffer a loss of clientele, as the Michigan government must publish disciplinary actions against physicians, this is to be expected.

By comparison, victims of medical malpractice often continue to incur substantial lifelong expenses, particularly in cases that involve birth injuries or injuries to the spinal cord that result in cognitive impairment. These expenses are subject to capped damage rewards, which are then typically reduced even further by the court system.

Many of the individuals who have suffered debilitating, lifelong injuries are themselves unable to continue working as a result of malpractice.

The final word

At Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C., we consider it a part of our civic duty to separate the facts from fiction when it comes to the various myths and mistruths that plague medical malpractice claims. We do this because we truly believe that the circulation of false information and misunderstandings concerning medical malpractice wrongfully villainize the victims that our team of top medical malpractice attorneys in Michigan works to advocate for.

Remember, seeking out compensation for the damages incurred as a result of negligence or medical malpractice is not a matter of selfishly chasing financial gain: It’s a matter of seeking justice and fighting to protect the rights of patients in the United States by holding healthcare providers accountable for the care they administer.

If you believe you or a loved one have been a victim of medical malpractice, please contact our law firm toll free on 866-MICH-LAW for a no obligation case evaluation.

Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. is dedicated to representing individuals and families who have suffered tragic losses as a result of injuries, disabilities, and death. Our firm does not represent insurance companies or corporations but instead bases its practice upon representing individuals and families.

Disclaimer : The information provided is general and not for legal advice. The blogs are not intended to provide legal counsel and no attorney-client relationship is created nor intended.

Ms. Barry is studying Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. She has won multiple awards both for her persuasive and creative writing and has written extensively on the topics of medical malpractice law, personal and birth injury law, product liability law. When she's not researching and writing about these topics, she edits a literary magazine and tutors students at Penn's writing center.



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