Criticism of medical malpractice system may be overblown

July 1, 2006

That's the conclusion of a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine (5/11/06). Based on a review of random samples of closed-claim files at five malpractice insurance companies in four regions across the United States, the study's researchers found that "portraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown."

That's the conclusion of a recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine (5/11/06). Based on a review of random samples of closed-claim files at five malpractice insurance companies in four regions across the United States, the study's researchers found that "portraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown."

The researchers found that meritless claims-those that did not involve injury or error-were not generally compensated. Of the 1,452 claims reviewed, researchers found that 3% involved no verifiable medical injuries, and the vast majority of these cases (84%) went unpaid. Similarly, among the 37% of reviewed claims that involved an injury but were not associated with error, 72% were not compensated. In contrast, 73% of claims involving injury and error were paid.

Although the cost of defending against frivolous claims is not trivial, eliminating claims that involved error would decrease costs only up to 16%. The researchers concluded that "moves to curb frivolous litigation, if successful, will have a relatively limited effect on the caseload and costs of litigation. The vast majority of resources go toward resolving and paying claims that involve errors. A higher-value target for reform than discouraging claims that do not belong in the system would be streamlining the processing of claims that do belong."