By Virginia Buchanan

November 25th, 2012  4:00pm

Although politicians regularly refer to trial lawyers and what they term “out of control frivolous lawsuits” as a substantial cause of the health, business and economic woes of the country, the numbers simply do not bear that out.  In its October 2012 issue, the Journal of the American College of Surgeons published an article that summarizes malpractice claims reported to the National Practitioner Data Base for the time frame 2005 to 2009.

The authors’ analysis showed that the number of overall claims for medical negligence decreased, and the payments made during that time frame were stable.  The article cites to prior studies, which estimate that only 2% to 3% of patients who are harmed by medical negligence file claims, and only half of those actually make a recovery for their damages.

The authors reviewed the claims that are most often made against surgeons for malpractice and found that about 10% of those are preventable, such as leaving a foreign object in the body, operating on the wrong body part/site, and doing the wrong surgical procedure.  Surgical safety checklists are being successfully used in many facilities as a means of preventing these types of errors and resulting malpractice claims.

The article also discusses how, in addition to these technical errors, system-related factors are also common causes of adverse outcomes and resulting malpractice claims.  Some prior studies have actually found that adverse surgical events are more likely to be caused by non-surgical misdeeds than by surgical ones.  Moreover, according to the authors, it is widely held that most medical and surgical errors are preventable.

More information on malpractice lawsuits is available here.

Virginia Buchanan is a shareholder at Levin, Papantonio.  She has served on the Board of Directions of the Florida Bar Foundation and has been Treasurer of ABOTA, Chairperson of the Civil Process Server Grievance Committeee and has been a member of the Chief Judge’s Council on Children. She currently is a member of the Women’s Caucus of the Florida Justice Association.