Study: Success of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Hinge Partly on Where They Happen

A new study by researchers at Rutgers University Medical School reveals that outcomes in medical malpractice lawsuits vary significantly depending on where in the U.S. the claim is filed. Published in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, the study analyzed federal litigation data from 43,000 facial trauma medical malpractice cases with payouts totaling $3.8 billion for allegations pertaining to inadequate care in diagnosis, treatment or surgery.

The researchers discovered physicians have the statistical advantage in medical malpractice cases no matter where a person lives. However, the likelihood of success varied significantly by region. For example, in the South, only ten percent of these claims were successful. In the Midwest, courts affirmed 40 percent of these same claims. Researchers concluded there were a few possible explanations, including a “proclivity for Southern judges to dismiss claims.”

Although this might seem discouraging, our Bangor medical malpractice lawyers note that of those cases decided by a jury trial, plaintiffs overwhelmingly did win. Roughly 40 percent of claims analyzed were decided by a jury, with awards ranging from $14,500 to $1.8 million.

Maine Medical Malpractice Cases Are No Easy Win

The research belies the erroneous public perception that medical malpractice claims are an easy windfall for patients. The reality is Maine medical malpractice cases are among the most challenging injury claims to pursue. Skilled, experienced civil litigation attorneys can build a case to help plaintiffs recoup their losses, but the process is more time-consuming than a typical personal injury or wrongful death case.

Since the 1980s in Maine, per Rule 80M, medical malpractice claims must undergo vetting by a mandatory pre-litigation panel of experts before they can even proceed to the trial phase. Panelists hold a confidential hearing – complete with evidence and witness testimony. Panelists discuss mediation and settlement opportunities with both parties. The panel can even make a determination on issues of liability and/or damages, which can be binding if both sides agree, although this is somewhat rare.

The burden of proof in these matters is on the plaintiff and is higher than in typical injury cases. Rather than a standard of negligence, medical malpractice claims assert deviation from the applicable standard of care. Proving this requires plaintiffs to hire expert witnesses. Medical malpractice attorneys for plaintiffs are paid on a contingency basis, meaning if they don’t win, they aren’t paid, so they are unlikely to pursue claims that could be characterized as “frivolous.”

Our attorneys offer free initial consultations to help those who believe they have suffered from medical malpractice determine the likelihood of success in filing a claim and deciding upon the best course of action.

How Maine Medical Malpractice Cases Stack Up

The Rutgers findings mirror what another analysis by Becker Hospital Review concluded in 2015 about the variation of medical malpractice case rates and payouts by state. According to the data, doctors are more likely to face medical malpractice litigation in Maine than in other states.

In analyzing the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed per 100,000 residents, Maine ranked number eight on the list. There were reportedly 30.2 Maine medical malpractice lawsuits filed per 100,000 residents, with a total payout of $16.8 million. This number represented a thirty percent decrease from the previous year. By comparison, the state with the highest rate of medical malpractice claims was Louisiana, with 44 claims per 100,00 residents and a total of $59 million paid out. The state with the lowest number of claims was Hawaii, with just 4.9 claims per 100,000 residents and a total payout of less than $5 million.

Some health care professionals were more prone to litigation. For example, Rutgers’ researchers found roughly fifteen percent of plastic surgeons are sued as often as once-a-year. Half of the claims studied involved emergency room doctors’ failure to diagnose. OBGYNs are also more commonly defendants in medical malpractice claims compared to those in other specialties.

If you are the victim of medical malpractice in Maine, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Facial Trauma Malpractice Lawsuits Favor Physicians, Rutgers Study Finds, Feb. 11, 2019, Rutgers Today


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