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Group disproves claims regarding medical malpractice

Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen has released a report that shows payments from medical malpractice lawsuits hit their lowest point in 2011 since 1991, when such data first became available. The report illustrates an eight-year streak of declines.

Public Citizen says the report shows that medical malpractice lawsuits are not responsible for increases in the cost of medical care. Additionally, the group found that 80 percent of malpractice awards are used to compensate plaintiffs for "death, catastrophic harm or serious personal injuries." This debunks frequently repeated claims that medical malpractice lawsuits are frivolous or unreasonable.

A North Carolina resident may file a medical malpractice lawsuit when he or she has suffered harm after a medical provider failed to provide proper care, made critical errors in diagnosis or treatment or otherwise acted negligently. These lawsuits can target physicians, psychologists, counselors or any other health care providers licensed in North Carolina. If successful, the plaintiff will be awarded a sum determined by a judge in accordance with state law.

According to Public Citizen, the United States saw a total of 9,758 medical malpractice payments in 2011, the lowest on record. The adjusted value of these payments was also the lowest ever recorded at $3.2 million. The average size of each payment, recorded at $327,000 in 2011, was also down from previous years.

Despite the falling number of malpractice awards, Public Citizen said the data does not support claims that medical care has become safer. In fact, statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that over 80,000 Medicare enrollees die from avoidable medical errors every year, with another 620,000 sustaining severe injuries.

A representative for Public Citizen said that malpractice victims who do not receive compensation must frequently carry the burden of increased future medical expenses. She explained "The juxtaposition of declining medical malpractice payments and skyrocketing medical costs exposes bogus claims that reducing patients' access to legal remedies will reduce costs."

Source: Insurance Journal, "Malpractice Claims at Record Low, Not Driving Health Costs: Consumer Group," July 13, 2012

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