Posted by Bill Sandweg on 14 November 2016.
Last week I wrote about the National Practitioners Data Bank (“NPDB”) and the information reported to it. While the public may not obtain data about individual payouts or individual doctors, it can obtain bulk data about malpractice payouts and there is a trove of valuable and interesting information to be found there.
Diederich Healthcare is a national firm which sells liability insurance to healthcare professionals. Every year it reviews the payouts made the previous year and reported to the NPDB. It sorts the information into a graphic you can find here. It is a beautiful and informative graphic with some surprises.
Among the facts I found interesting was how malpractice payments have changed over the last 12 years. The data in the graphic goes back to 2003. There was a long decline in total payments each year from 2003 to 2012. While there were increases in 2013, 2014 and 2015, they were not large increases. The total payments made in 2015 were only about 82% of the total made in 2003.
Our home state of Arizona reported total payouts in 2015 of a little over $71M. This works out to $10.47 for each person who lives in Arizona. This is well below the highest state in per capita payouts; payments made in New York were $35.95 per person.
The figures support an observation I have made frequently: only the most seriously injured people are likely to receive a medical malpractice payment. Of the 2015 payments, 30% of the amount paid was for claims involving death, 18% for significant permanent injuries, 16% for quadriplegia or brain injuries requiring lifetime care, and 16% for major permanent injuries. Coming in at 8% each were temporary major injury and permanent minor injury. 80% of all payments involved either death or a significant permanent injury. Only 13% of the payments made went to people who did not have a permanent injury.
Not surprisingly, the highest average payments went to those who suffered quadriplegia or brain damage or other injury requiring lifetime care. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that the average payment to even these most seriously injured people with the greatest medical needs going forward was only $1,086,711. Major permanent injuries came in second with an average payment of $548,836. The average payment made in a case in which the patient died was only $374,944.
These payments do not show a system running amok which must be reined in. Mistakes are as common in medicine as they are in the rest of our world, perhaps even more so given the complexity of medical care and the number of people who share responsibility for that care. Many people are injured by these mistakes yet only a few receive compensation for their injuries and even those who do receive amounts which pale in comparison to the injuries they have suffered.