While medical malpractice insurance premiums are among the highest, they comprise a very small percentage of medical costs, according to a study by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
And the impression that malpractice lawsuits are legion is just plain wrong, according to Lynn Mares, Oklahoma City attorney with the firm Abel Musser Sokolosky Mares Haubrich Burch Kouri.
"I think there might be a lot of things go wrong in the medical field, but if you recovered, a jury's going to say, `Well, you recovered. Everything worked out OK in the end,' " Mares said.
Consequently, attorneys generally balk at filing medical malpractice lawsuits unless the situation is extreme, such as death, severe brain damage or paralytic cases _ "or the malpractice has to be so outrageous that it's a damage in itself, it's emotionally distressful," Mares said.
If negligence occurs and the patient recovers without permanent injury, it is probably not feasible to file a malpractice suit, she said. In Oklahoma, medical malpractice cases usually go to trial and are rarely settled. A malpractice lawsuit, the necessary use of expensive expert doctors and the trial itself are extremely costly.
"It's very rare you can get an expert doctor to testify from here in Oklahoma," Mares said. "They're all insured by one company, Physicians Liability Insurance Co. Any medical doctor in Oklahoma is insured by them, so if we wanted to get a fellow doctor from Oklahoma City to testify about one of his colleagues here in the city _ it's hard enough in the first place for a doctor to want to testify against a colleague, but also I know there's some influence from this insurance company.
"It discourages physicians from testifying against each other."
So, most expert witnesses must be engaged from out of state, she said.
"Contrary to the popular myth that people are filing frivolous lawsuits against doctors, attorneys are usually extremely careful about such cases because the attorneys are the ones who advance all the expenses," Mares said. "A case must be based on provable negligence and must yield a verdict which will both compensate the victim and cover attorney fees and litigation costs."
The trial lawyers association study, published in March, cited U.S. Congressional Budget Office statistics that showed medical malpractice insurance premiums amount to less than 1 percent of national health care costs. In 1991, medical malpractice insurance represented 64 cents out of every $100 of national health care costs, the study said.
In 1991, losses paid by insurance companies for medical negligence amounted to 31 cents out of every $100 of national health care costs, the study said. …