Every year, the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) creates a compilation of data about medical malpractice payouts in the United States. These data can be helpful, because they can help identify trends in medmal, state-to-state, and effectively “take the temperature” of how the country feels about the industry and about tort reform. Surprisingly, the report found that 93% of all payouts in 2013 came from settlements — only 4% of the money came from verdicts. The survey also illustrated that trial can be quite a risky proposition, from a plaintiff’s point of view. Doctors win substantially more cases than they lose in court. Perhaps doctors who feel confident in their positions don’t mind going to trial to defend them, while doctors who feel less sure choose to settle.
The NPDB data only focus on medical malpractice cases against practitioners, not hospitals. Some analysts have expressed quibbles with aspects of the NPDB methodology, but these issues are too fine grained and technical to cover here. The data can certainly enlighten us about the key trends, however.
State by State Medical Malpractice Payouts for 2013
In terms of per capita payouts, New York State led the charge — nearly $40 of per capita. Washington D.C.’s per capita was higher that average at $19.31 per capita. Maryland, meanwhile, had a basically identical rate of $19.27. Virginia fared slightly better at $10.26. North Dakota was on the low end — just $2.96 per capita was paid out.
For the first in time in over a decade, the total number of payouts went up, as did the amount of payouts. Analysts suggest that this trend may reflect a national push back against the “tort reform” movement. The data do show significant variation from state to state, indicating a volatile industry in transition.
Three years ago, 308 medical malpractice practice cases were settled or decided in court in Maryland for total of $91 million. Meanwhile, in Virginia, 199 cases either settled or got decided in court for $77 million. Even though Virginia settled few cases, the total average payout amount was much higher in VA.
The distribution of medmal payouts roughly follows the Pareto Principle (also known as the “80-20 Rule”), in that just a handful of cases led to the majority of payouts.
Author Michael Krauss analyzed the NPDB data on the Forbes blog and asked penetrating questions about what these numbers might mean: “How much underreporting to the NPDB… goes on? Why is New York so seemingly different from every other state? Do statutes inadvertently skew results?”
When analyzing any data – even carefully controlled surveys that have been vetted and professionally assessed – you need to be careful to avoid jumping to conclusions.
The reality is that survey data like these need to be understood in context and supported by other studies and evidences. If you need a medical malpractice lawyer in Virginia, D.C. or Maryland, please contact Regan, Zambri & Long today for a free consultation at (202) 759-6699.