A statement issued by an alliance of healthcare groups last week attempts to persuade Congress that damage awards of $1 million and more in medical malpractice cases are skyrocketing.
But a reading of the numbers shows that $1 million-plus damage awards are less prevalent than the alliance wants Congress to believe. In fact, the data show that provider defendants win two out of every three malpractice lawsuits.
The press statement was issued by the Health Care Liability Alliance, a coalition of healthcare trade groups and others interested in urging lawmakers to limit the size of malpractice damage awards.
The alliance includes the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, the Federation of American Health Systems, the Health Industry Manufacturers Association and the Health Insurance As-sociation of America.
It also includes a number of private insurance and risk-management companies, such as MMI Cos., Medical Liability Mutual Insurance Co. and MEDMARC Insurance Co.
In the statement issued last week, the alliance complains that "million-dollar lawsuits continue to plague America's healthcare providers."
The alliance used data from Jury Verdict Research, an independent legal research and publishing firm based in Horsham, Pa. The company specializes in personal-injury statistics.
The alliance said Jury Verdict's data reveal that the number of jury awards of $1 million or more in medical malpractice cases has skyrocketed.
"The 15-year proliferation of million-dollar lawsuits continues with no end in sight," the alliance warned.
The alliance cited Jury Verdict data that show the percentage of malpractice damage awards of $1 million or more represented 32% of all such awards last year. That was down from 36% in 1993 but significantly higher than previous years, it said.
For example, in 1980, awards of $1 million or more represented just 14% of all malpractice damage awards, the alliance said, citing Jury Verdict data.
But a closer look at the group's data tells a more complicated story.
MODERN HEALTHCARE requested data from the alliance's public relations firm, Fleishman-Hillard of St. Louis, on the actual number of malpractice damage awards and the number of awards of $1 million or more. The firm didn't have the data and suggested contacting Jury Verdict Research.
Preliminary data from the company reveal that the number of times juries awarded malpractice damages of $1 million or more dropped to 74 last year from 105 in 1993. The final tally for 1994 won't be able for several months.
That compares with 95 and 85 malpractice damage awards of $1 million or more in 1991 and 1992, respectively.
Jury Verdict data also reveal that the defendants in malpractice cases have been winning lawsuits at the rate of two to one over the past several years (See chart).
For example, of the 877 jury verdicts in malpractice cases recorded by the company in 1993, the defendants won 597 times, or 68% of the cases.
A spokesman for Jury Verdict Research said the alliance's statement
should have included information on defense verdicts to provide an accurate picture of the state of malpractice litigation. However, he said the company can't control how its data are used by special-interest groups.
The AHA and AMA didn't respond to interview requests.