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A surge in large medical malpractice awards targeting physicians and hospitals is part of new data released on February 2, 2024, by the global reinsurance company TransRe.
In 2023, a record number of 57 medical malpractice verdicts of $10 million or more were recorded in U.S. Of these, slightly over half reached $25 million or more. This surpasses the range of verdicts from $10 million or more from 2012 to 2022, which ranged from 34 in 2013 to 52 in 2022.
The statistics “blew away every record previously set among high medical malpractice verdicts,” according to Richard Henderson, an officer at TransRe, who was quoted in Medscape Medical News. “If we look at the 50 largest verdicts in 2023 and average them out, we have a higher monetary amount than any other year.”
The data also highlights a shift in high-dollar verdicts from traditionally affected states like New York, Illinois and Florida to unexpected states like Utah and Georgia. A rollback of tort reforms across the country is one contributor, he said. For example, Georgia’s cap on noneconomic has been ruled unconstitutional by courts. Utah’s cap on noneconomic damages still stands, but the limit was deemed unconstitutional in wrongful death cases
Theories attempting to explain the surge in high-dollar verdicts include the possibility that plaintiff attorneys were forced to hold back trying cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a wave of claims when courts returned to normal.
Another theory is that public anger directed toward the healthcare system has contributed to the increase in liability suits, according to Bill Burns, vice president of research for the Medical Professional Liability Association. “Hospital and medical group consolidation also reduces the personal connection juries may have with healthcare providers,” he added.
While the large awards are often reduced on appeal, they have lasting effects on the industry, impacting settlement demands and increasing the costs to resolve claims.
Higher medical malpractice premiums are another consequence of massive awards. Premium rates are associated with how much insurers pay on average for cases and how frequently they are making payouts. From 2019 to 2023, average premium rates for physicians increased between 1.1% and 3% each year. However, increases vary widely by region.
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