New England Journal of Medicine Debunks Myth of Frivolous Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Until recently, the existence of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits was the subject of significant controversy with no empirical support for any particular position.  Organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have spent millions of dollars demonizing lawyers by promoting and perpetuating the notion that frivolous lawsuits are the root cause of many evils, suggesting for example that skyrocketing health insurance premiums are caused by runaway jury verdicts. 

My partner recently offered anecdotal evidence that frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits are actually a myth by describing the significant risks lawyers face litigating medcial negligence cases.  The cases are very expensive and always vigorously defended.  In Arizona, more than 90% of the malpractice cases that go to trial result in defense verdicts.  Any lawyer who regularly files frivolous lawsuits is a lawyer who won’t be in business very long.

Now, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health and Bringham and Women’s Hospital, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in May 2006, seriously challenges the view that frivolous medical malpractice litigation is a problem.  The study found that most injuries which result in claims are actually caused by medical errors.  The study confirmed that most claimants who were not injured received nothing.  And, most importantly, the authors concluded that claims which involved no error were largely the result of the difficulties lawyers have getting information about what actually happened without litigation, not lawyers pursuing questionable lawsuits.  The Harvard School of Public Health press release can be found at the following link.

Now that some of the most respected names in medicine have weighed in on the issue of frivolous lawsuits, supported by their own peer-reviewed empirical studies, one must at least question the motives of those who seem unwilling to listen.

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