Medical malpractice occurs whenever doctors act in a culpable manner–or fail to take a medically acceptable action–differing from the acceptable standards of care in the medical community and causing death to the patient. Standards of satisfactory care and the regulations that doctors must uphold differ from state to state. Doctors must maintain professional liability insurance as a result of the high costs associated with medical malpractice suits.
Medical malpractice insurance covers medical practitioners (includes doctors, dentists, assistants, and other practitioners) for liability claims resulting from their treatment of patients. Medical malpractice insurance has grown notoriously pricey, with the costs associated with it beginning to rise at the start of the last ten years following a period of reasonably flat costs. The increasing prices came about in part thanks to the increasing size of claims, especially in urban locations. Another important factor driving prices up is a limited supply of available coverage due to several major insurers leaving the medical malpractice industry–it’s just too difficult for many to make a profit.
Traditionally speaking, the insurance industry tends to be cyclical. In the early 1970s, the medical malpractice segment experienced a crisis time when several non-public insurers ducked out of the market because of skyrocketing claims and inadequate rates. Steps were taken to lessen this shortage of accessibility in the next fifteen years–including tort reform, increased diagnostic testing, improved peer review, and improved communication between doctors and patients. The efforts seemed to pay off, with the number of claims dropping, but the dollar amount of the claims continued to rise.
The states became increasingly aggressive at reforming laws regarding medical liability lawsuits in the 1970s, with every state apart from West Virginia passing reforms. New Hampshire subsequently had its complete reform act ruled unconstitutional by its State supreme court. Indiana, on the other hand, put forth the most elaborate reform in the nation at the time (1975) and has been prevailed in all challenges brought against it. As a consequence, Indiana has succeeded in helping to keep physicians’ insurance premiums down in that state.
One solution doctors tried to help with the problem of availability was forming doctor-owned malpractice insurance firms to provide coverage. Today, these companies write roughly 1/2 all medical malpractice insurance policies in the U.S. Initially, they could charge much lower rates since they’d not yet experienced any losses. As time went on they followed in the steps of their insurance predecessors, having to fork over bigger and larger claims as their insured doctors’ patients filed malpractice claims. Leading in turn, naturally, to raised insurance rates. Hawaii medical malpractice
The explanations for the skyrocketing number of medical malpractice claims are not wholly clear, but most point to several contributory factors. Not only have folks become more litigious than they were in the past, but the emergency of the 1970s was so heavily featured by the media that folk become more aware they could sue for damages. Another factor is the loss of an intimate relationship between families and doctors, and the use of medical mavens to testify in malpractice cases. Physicians also point their fingers at lawyers, claiming they’re unacceptably hot to win malpractice suits so they can recoup extreme attorneys’ costs when their customers win in court.
Another, more recent development is the rising public distrust of the medical profession, along with the increased publicity over medical errors. Folk now believe standards are declining, although the reverse is actually true. Some industry leaders claim that juries have become desensitized to big numbers. While awards do get reduced, the results of appeals are not publicized, which leads to higher claim demands and settlements. Others cite a growing resentment to enormous for-profit healthcare firms, the caliber and strength of the plaintiffs’ bar, and a bigger willingness on the part of doctors to profit by testifying against another physician.