Abandoned Medical Malpractice Claims: Their Surprising Frequency, Apparent Causes, and Potential Remedies
Suffolk University Law School
July 1, 2011
Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 11-28
Most medical malpractice claims are not won or lost in court, or settled. Instead, they disappear, abandoned by the plaintiffs who bring them.
A study of 3,605 malpractice claims closed between 2006 and 2010 showed that in 46.4 percent of malpractice cases and 58.6 percent of claims against individual defendants, plaintiffs eventually dropped the case or claim without a decision or recovery. This did not occur, however, until defendants had incurred defense costs of more than $25,000 per claim and $44,000 per case and significant stress and other non-monetary costs were incurred by patients and doctors.
The study included interviews of plaintiff lawyers, which show numerous reasons for plaintiffs’ decisions to abandon a claim. The most common is that malpractice cases are complex and their validity is therefore difficult to ascertain before discovery processes occur.
The article argues that patients and doctors have a joint interest in finding a better process, and notes that there are models for how this could be done. One hospital system which changed its approach to resolving potential malpractice claims found that the frequency and cost of cases declined by large percentages.
The article suggests that plaintiff malpractice specialists, who accounted for a large proportion of the abandoned claims in the study, work with insurers and hospitals to develop ways to exchange information and discuss settlement efficiently. Such reforms would substantially reduce the frequency and duration of dropped claims and substantially reduce the cost of medical malpractice litigation, and could do so without impairing compensation to patients or their lawyers.
Keywords: medical malpractice, abandoned claims, dropped claims, abandonment, settlement, defense costs, malpractice insurance
Date posted: July 27, 2011 ; Last revised: September 25, 2011