Approximately 44,000 people die in the United States each year due to medical malpractice. So as you read this section of our website, someone will die due to a healthcare provider’s failure to provide the appropriate level of care. This number of deaths is more than is caused by breast cancer, AIDS or automobile accidents.

The insurance and healthcare industries want you to believe that greedy lawyers are the problem, and this is causing doctors’ malpractice insurance to rise resulting in physicians leaving Florida to practice elsewhere.Data has shown that:


    • The number of medical errors reported by Florida hospitals exceeds the number of medical malpractice claims filed each year by 6 to 1. From 1996 through 1999, Florida hospitals reported 19,885 incidents but only 3,177 medical malpractice claims. This means that for every six adverse incidents in the hospital only one malpractice claim is ever filed.


    • Six percent of the doctors in Florida (the “Bad Apples”) are responsible for half the malpractice. Public Citizen’s analysis of the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank information found that 2,674 of the State’s 44,747 doctors have paid two or more malpractice awards to patients. These doctors are responsible for 51 percent of all payments.


    • Many of Florida’s most dangerous doctors continue to practice, and the State watchdog is asleep on the job. There are 1,555 physicians who have been disciplined by Florida’s state medical and osteopathic boards for incompetence, mis-prescribing drugs, sexual misconduct, criminal convictions, ethical lapses and other offenses.


    • Rate increases are up for many other types of insurance in Florida. Rate increases are largely the result of the economics of the insurance industry and are parallel to those seen in housing insurance.


Medical malpractice has been one of the greatest debates in recent years. The sharp increases in insurance rates have been attributed to varying problems. Insurance companies and the medical field have blamed high payouts in medical malpractice lawsuits for the insurance rate increases and were able to use this excuse to pass medical malpractice caps in many states. According to actual numbers, these claims are false.


A leading analytic company of commercial insurance issues, the International Risk Management Institute, has pointed to a poor investment market for the rate increases. Insurers had lowered rates to attract customers paying premiums in order to increase cash flow when the stock market investments were booming, but poor investment returns resulted in a spike in premiums. Rather than admitting rate increases were in response to a poor investment market, insurers blamed the tort system.


Unfortunately, the misplaced blame worked. Lawmakers in many states were able to pass medical malpractice caps as insurers and doctors rallied against medical malpractice lawyers. In actuality, every year there is just an average of 800 Florida medical malpractice cases filed, and it takes about five years for a malpractice case to get through the system. By capping non-economic medical malpractice awards, the people that have been involved in permanent and severe injuries will be the most affected.


Consumer groups have argued that, in part, the medical malpractice “crisis” is the result of repeat offenders that do not receive disciplinary actions for the injuries their negligence causes. A doctor in Florida has a six time greater likelihood of receiving a fine as the most serious disciplinary action.


At the end of 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated 44,000 – 98,000 Americans die in hospitals every year because of preventable medical errors. For preventable medical errors, the cost society acquires as a result is estimated at $17 – $29 billion. Broken down, the cost of preventable medical errors every year for Florida residents is estimated at $935 million – $1.6 billion. When compared to the $500 million that Florida doctors pay every year for medical malpractice premiums, the numbers suggest the problem does not lay in legal torts.


Public Citizen, a consumer group, also believes that there is a significant amount of money that has not yet been committed to improving patient safety. The federal government, according to the group, spends $655 million on breast cancer prevention and $3.5 billion on AIDS prevention, making the $130 million on improving patient safety disproportionate.


The medical malpractice debate is expected to continue to be a large issue in the future. After laws were passed in many states to limit medical malpractice awards, Public Citizen released state specific reports showing data that did not support the push that insurers and doctors were claiming. Responding to scare tactics, the medical malpractice limits have taken away consumer rights in the worst possible ways according to consumer groups. The caps will not influence minor injuries suffered because of medical malpractices; however, those individuals that suffer the most will now have to bear the injustice of being unable to receive a fair compensation. For more information on medical malpractice, please contact Michles & Booth.

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