2012 malpractice awards tumbled to lowest level in 10 years

Don't blame malpractice litigation for increasing healthcare costs, Public Citizen argues in a new report, which shows malpractice payments fell 29 percent over the past 10 years while healthcare costs rose 58 percent.

Both the frequency of medical malpractice payments on behalf of doctors (9,379) and the amount of money paid have fallen annually since peaking in 2003, according to the report, citing data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, which has tracked malpractice payments since the fall of 1990. Payments in 2012 ($3.1 billion) were the lowest on record in inflation-adjusted dollars, and the lowest since 1998 in actual dollars.

Medical malpractice payments represented 0.11 percent of national healthcare costs in 2012, the lowest on record, according to the report. Medical liability insurance premiums fell to a 10-year low of 0.36 of 1 percent of healthcare costs.

"We now have a decade's worth of data debunking the litigation canard," report author Taylor Lincoln, research director for Public Citizen's Congress Watch division, said in an announcement. "Policymakers need to focus on reducing medical errors, not reducing accountability for medical errors."

Public Citizen says state laws reducing patients' legal rights are probably responsible for the falling litigation awards.

A separate study published last month in BMJ Open found the biggest reason people sue doctors is a delay or failure to diagnose disease, especially cancer, heart attacks and meningitis that kills patients. The second most-cited cause for malpractice suits was medication errors.

For more:
-read the report (.pdf)
-here's the announcement
- check out the study in BMJ Open