Most malpractice claims eventually dropped, study finds

August 11, 2011

Being served with a medical malpractice lawsuit can be disturbing, but, before you panic, keep something important in mind: There is a better than even chance the suit eventually will be dropped. The author of a recent study offers advice on speeding that process along.

Being served with a medical malpractice lawsuit can be disturbing, but before you panic, keep in mind that there is a better than even chance the suit eventually will be dropped, according to a new study.

The study, “Dropped Medical Malpractice Claims: Their Surprising Frequency, Apparent Causes, and Potential Remedies,” examined 3,600 malpractice claims closed in Massachusetts between 2006 and 2010. Claims were pending an average of 2.7 years before being closed.

Study author Dwight Golann, JD, a professor at the Suffolk University School of Law in Boston, Massachusetts, measured the frequency and cost of abandoned claims, then collected opinions from attorneys and other experts on why plaintiffs drop claims. Golann found that plaintiffs abandoned 58.6% of claims against defendants, while settling 26.6%. Only 14.8% actually went to court.

Golann said that claims often are dropped because, as the lawsuit progresses, plaintiffs acquire more information and discover that their case is weaker then they had first thought. In an email response to questions from Medical Economics eConsult, Golann said, “There is a large missed opportunity here for both insurers and physician groups that insure themselves: Claims could be resolved much more quickly and cheaply, often without a lawsuit ever being filed.”

He added that some hospital systems, such as the University of Michigan system, and even corporations such as GE and Toro, have “instituted policies to jump on potential claims, investigate them quickly, and make low but credible settlement offers in situations where justified. By doing so these systems and companies have saved large amounts of money, which can be passed on to physicians. They’ve also avoided having lawsuits hanging over providers’ heads for years.”

The study appeared in the July 2011 issue of Health Affairs.

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