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Medical Malpractice


  • Few cases end up in court.

Many authorities have concluded that one in ten medical acts of negligence are known to the patients and of those, few end up being viable litigated claims.  Because medical malpractice cases are so expensive, there has to be the potential of a high damage award in order to justify the great amount of time and expenses the lawyer must incur in preparing the case for trial.  And if the injured patient is not prepared to go to trial, there will be no offer of settlement.  The medical insurance companies seldom make a settlement offer if no suit is filed.  In short, there must be some catastrophic injury to constitute a viable medical malpractice case.

These injuries typically are those which involve major long term disability or death, or involve a substantial loss of income and future medical expense.  In the latter instances, the younger the patient, the greater the long term damages.  In the case of older patients, juries have started to award damages in excess of  $500,000  for aggravated nursing home cases.  In general, if the cases are not worth  $500,000  in settlement, most law firms will not take the case.  This eliminates most cases involving dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, the  terminally ill, and mental health caretakers and practitioners.  It is hard to generalize, however, and each case must be evaluated on its own individual merits.  The sad aspect of this practice is that many negligent medical providers are able to escape liability because the case presented is simply not a viable one.

  • How many medical malpractice cases are there in Illinois?

The Auditor General of the State of Illinois performed an audit of the Department of Professional Regulation to which all physician medical malpractice settlements within the state of Illinois are reported.  He found that for the years 1995 and 1996 there were 135 reports.  Of these, insurers reported paying a total of over $28 million to claimants.  The largest settlement was $2.5 million.  The Department took no disciplinary action against any of the physicians involved in these 135 mandatory reports.  See: State of Illinois. Office of the Auditor General, Program Audit, Physicians Regulated under the Medical Practice Act.  Department of Professional Regulation, May, 1997, William G. Holland, Auditor General Page 33.

This report does not involve claims brought against hospitals, as they are not regulated by the state of Illinois.  The settlements against hospitals will be larger as most physicians in Illinois do not have insurance coverage in excess of one million dollars unless they are associated with a clinic.  A little extrapolation will reveal that these claims amount to less than .5% of all fees paid to physicians for each of these two years.  One must add to these figures the cost of legal defense and insurance company overhead and profits, and the huge reserves that the malpractice insurance companies have accrued.  From this one can determine that the reason that medical malpractice premiums are relatively high, is not the claims paid, and the cost of the cases defended, but the high reserves that the carriers have built up over the years.

Additionally, the cost of medical malpractice insurance premiums is born disproportionately by the high-risk specialties such as obstetrics.  But the sad fact is that none of the aforesaid factors has lead to the removal of those few negligent physicians from the practice who account for a disproportionate number of malpractice claims.



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