Medical Malpractice Payments Declined Again in 2010

Both Frequency and Value Fell to Lowest Levels on Record by Most Measures

By almost any measure, the prevalence and cost of medical malpractice litigation were at their lowest levels on record in 2010, according to data released earlier this month by the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank and analyzed by Public Citizen.

In contrast to the hundreds of thousands of annual adverse events (and tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths) attributable to medical mistakes, only 10,195 medical malpractice payments were made on behalf of doctors in 2010. To put this in perspective, the number of payments made in 2010 equaled only a little more than 1 percent of the number of Medicare patients that the Department of Health and Human Services estimates suffered serious, avoidable injuries that year - and that says nothing of the hundreds of thousands or millions of non-Medicare patients who suffered serious harms due to negligence.

This contrast points to the inescapable conclusion that there is a medical malpractice crisis in the United States, and the crisis is over the epidemic of medical errors, not over the relatively rare compensatory payments.