The Truth About Medical Malpractice Part I

March 2, 2015

medical_malpractice.jpgAre Doctors Being Driven out of States because of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits?

In medical malpractice cases, a jury can award “economic damages” (money meant to cover medical bills, lost wages, etc.), “noneconomic damages” (money awarded for suffering, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life), and “punitive damages” (money awarded in cases where the medical professional was extraordinarily reckless in causing the injury).

Many states have put in place laws, which limit the amount of money a person can receive after winning a medical malpractice lawsuit. Most of these laws limit the amount of money a jury can award a person for noneconomic damages but a few states have limits on any type of compensation awarded in medical malpractice cases. In New Jersey, there is no limit on economic and noneconomic awards but there is a limit on punitive awards (the law states a medical provider will not pay for a punitive award which is more than five times the amount of the economic award or $350,000, depending on which one is greater).

Recently, the highest court in Florida held Florida’s limit on the amount of money a jury could award a person for noneconomic damages was illegal. The caps had been put in place by the state because of a mistaken belief that juries were giving excessive awards and people were bringing too many unnecessary lawsuits. Florida was then led to believe that doctors were being driven out of the state because of this.

So, are doctors leaving New Jersey because of medical malpractice lawsuits? The answer is no. Firstly, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits in New Jersey has dropped by 50% over the last ten years. Secondly, before a lawsuit can even be brought forward against a doctor, the injured person must submit a sworn affidavit from another doctor swearing that the defendant doctor committed malpractice or the case will be dismissed. Even under these circumstances, the defendant doctor wins 94% of the time.

The truth is the number of doctors across the country is actually increasing. The American Medical Association reports that the number of doctors in every state has actually increased over the past several years. Further, a Government Accountability Office investigation found the number of doctors in states without any limitations on awards is greater than the number of doctors in states with limitations.

Given the reality, many states are overturning the caps placed on awards in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Make sure to come back soon for Part II: The Reality About Jury Awards in Medical Malpractice Lawsuits.

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