Medical negligence lawsuits in Pennsylvania are some of the toughest injury cases to prosecute. Doctors seem to get a pass. There’s this widespread belief that doctors can do no wrong or are beyond reproach. It’s why patients might not question their doctor until it’s too late. It’s also why juries can have a hard time returning a verdict against a doctor or surgeon. Then, add in the fact many states across the U.S. have passed laws which make it harder for patients to file medical negligence claims. Ten years ago, the insurance industry got the ball rolling, with a huge lobbying effort to curtail large “run-away jury” verdicts in medical and hospital malpractice cases.
One of the most important legal hurdles for patients who want to file a medical malpractice lawsuit is a special requirement, often referred to as a certificate of merit or affidavit of merit. Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey require them when filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. This requirement makes it much more difficult to file a lawsuit against a hospital, surgeon or doctor. That’s because a certificate of merit requires a medical opinion by an expert who has reviewed the case and determined that it is meritorious. The costs to obtain a certificate of merit are often high, sometimes over $10,000. In some cases, it can cost $10,000 off the bat, just to figure out whether a doctor or hospital committed malpractice. The costs are borne by the medical malpractice attorneys who represent patients and their families.
As a result of these significant costs, fewer attorneys are handling medical malpractice cases. This is despite the fact that instances of medical malpractice in the U.S. have not declined. Rather, the numbers appear to be increasing quite dramatically.
According to an often-cited 1999 study from the Institute of Medicine about the prevalence of medical malpractice in the U.S., To Err is Human, roughly 100,000 people die from medical mistakes each year in this country. In a more recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins published in the British Medical Journal, Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US, roughly 250,000 people die each year from medical mistakes. That’s a 150% increase over a 15 year period. The Johns Hopkins study also found the following:
- 10% of deaths in the U.S. are due to medical errors.
- Medical mistakes are the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S.
- Medical errors are under-recognized as causes of death.
The decrease in the number of medical malpractice lawsuits, despite the increase in number of annual deaths due to medical errors, highlights a simple fact–doctors are not being held accountable for medical errors across the U.S., including Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuits & Chances of Success – 2015 Data in Pennsylvania
Courts in Pennsylvania track medical malpractice cases, the number of annual filings, verdicts, etc. Each year since 2000, the annual numbers have been decreasing steadily. In 2001, 2,733 medical malpractice lawsuits were filed. By 2015, that number declined to 1,519. That’s about a 45% decrease in a 15 year period. Get more data on Pennsylvania medical malpractice lawsuit filings.
Here’s some additional data. Of the 1,519 medical malpractice lawsuits filed in Pennsylvania in 2015, less than 10% went to trial. In 2015, there were 101 verdicts in medical malpractice cases. Of those, 79% were defense verdicts (79 out of 101 were for the defense). In other words, of the cases that went to trial in 2015, only 1 in 5 resulted in a win for the patient. However, this data shouldn’t scare patients away. That’s because most cases will involve multiple defendants, and most cases will settle before trial ever occurs. The cases that do end up in front of a jury are those that couldn’t be settled, often due to a major disagreement over the facts.
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