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Mega Malpractice Awards

February 2, 2024, from Medscape

Over the past few years, there have been numerous high-value malpractice verdicts that have garnered significant attention in the United States. These verdicts have prompted discussions and debates within the healthcare sector. The far-reaching consequences of these substantial awards, commonly known as “nuclear verdicts,” have implications that go well beyond individual cases, affecting healthcare providers, insurers, and patients in equal measure.


A Record-Breaking Phenomenon

In 2023, there was a significant increase in high-dollar medical malpractice verdicts, as reported by TransRe. Richard Henderson, Senior Vice President for TransRe, stated that the year 2023 surpassed all previous records for high medical malpractice verdicts. The data indicates a notable increase in verdicts, with 57 cases surpassing $10 million, which is considerably higher compared to previous years.


Geographical Shifts and Legal Landscape

In the past, states such as New York, Illinois, and Florida were renowned for their substantial verdicts. Nevertheless, Robert E. White Jr., President of TDC Group, highlights the increasing prevalence of these substantial verdicts in states like Utah and Georgia, where they were previously less common. The reversal of tort reforms and the evolving legal environment contribute to this trend, causing uncertainties for healthcare providers across the country.


Factors Contributing to Large Verdicts

There are multiple factors that contribute to the increase in large verdicts in medical malpractice cases. Factors such as the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, changes in society, and shifts in public opinion have a substantial impact. According to Bill Burns, Vice President of Research for the Medical Professional Liability Association, the aftermath of the pandemic has resulted in heightened anger among individuals, which could potentially impact the decisions made by juries.


Impacts on Healthcare Providers

The increasing commercialization of the medical field and the consolidation of hospitals have created a greater divide between healthcare providers and the communities they serve. As a result, the personal connection that juries may have with these providers has been diminished. Plaintiffs’ attorneys utilize a range of strategies, focusing on deterrence and punitive measures to influence juries, which can lead to higher verdicts.


Addressing Legal Challenges

Although these large verdicts often do not hold up completely, they do have long-term impacts on the healthcare sector. Jennifer Crisera, an attorney specializing in medical liability defense in Seattle, sheds light on how defense strategies and settlement negotiations can be influenced. Even if the outcomes are eventually less severe, healthcare providers face significant emotional strain and financial hardships.


Implications of Insurance Premiums

The consequences of large verdicts have a significant impact on the cost of medical liability insurance premiums, which have been consistently rising in recent times. Michael Matray, Editor for the Medical Liability Monitor, highlights the healthcare sector’s reaction to the growing severity of claims, stating that they are “continuing to go up and, in all likelihood, it will drive [premium] rates up further from this point.”




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