Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Improve Patient Safety

As medical malpractice attorneys, we often hear complaints that “frivolous” medical malpractice lawsuits are “driving up the cost of health care.” Then, we go to court and must fight aggressively for our clients to receive fair compensation after they have suffered an obvious injury by a negligent medical professional.

In reality, the facts support a need for easier access to court, not additional limits on medical malpractice claims. According to the Institute of Medicine, fewer than one in eight people who have been injured by a medical professional actually bring a medical malpractice claim. Of those claims, 97 percent are meritorious, based on real injuries caused by medical negligence. Yet, according to a study by Harvard, more than 16 percent of those meritorious claims are unsuccessful. This is certainly not a system “wrought with frivolous litigation.”

Instead, it is a system – perhaps the only system – that holds medical professionals accountable when they make mistakes that injure or kill patients. State medical boards sanction fewer than 3,000 doctors a year even though approximately 98,000 patients die each year as the result of preventable medical errors. Thus, it is up to injured patients and their families to hold the remaining doctors accountable for their mistakes and prevent future errors by the same professionals.

A Larger Impact on Patient Safety

Bringing a lawsuit against a medical professional or hospital can also have a larger impact on patient safety.

A new medical malpractice study by a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the American Society of Health Care Risk Management has found that medical malpractice lawsuits don’t only hold health care professionals responsible; they also offer lessons to medical facilities. In fact, to reduce the number of lawsuits they face, a significant number of hospitals – 80 percent of those surveyed in the study – have adopted a policy of giving patients the one thing many want most after a medical error: an apology.

Hospitals have also begun to analyze medical malpractice lawsuit data to identify errors in their own facilities and address them with patients. By reviewing lawsuits involving their own staff and doctors, they can detect problems with hospital procedures and, in some cases, entire departments.

As the lead author of the study, Joanna C. Schwartz, states, “Because lawsuits help to identify incidents and details of medical error, limitations on lawsuits [such as medical malpractice caps] may actually impede patient safety efforts.”

The facts are clear: Medical malpractice lawsuits serve multiple purposes. They allow patients to recover compensation for their injuries and begin the path to recovery. They hold doctors accountable for serious and preventable mistakes. And they help hospitals develop procedures and policies that increase patient safety.

The Role of the Medical Malpractice Attorney

Unfortunately, not all meritorious medical malpractice claims are awarded with a just verdict or settlement. Many people accept lowball offers from doctors’ insurance companies because they simply do not understand the extent of their injuries. Others have trouble providing the evidence necessary to win a medical malpractice lawsuit.

That is why it is vital to have an experienced medical malpractice lawyer on your side. These cases are simply too complicated to be entrusted to someone without experience in medical negligence law.

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