When it comes to million-dollar lawsuits, the Health Care Liability Alliance is neither crying wolf over the severity of the problem nor trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes, least of all Congress'.
We'd hate to see MODERN HEALTHCARE's readers, the very people who wrestle with the debilitating impact of these lawsuits, believe otherwise. Let's take another look at the data reported in the April 10 issue ("$1 million awards less common than suggested," p. 24).
The alliance relied only on published data, which we promptly made available to your reporter on request. When your reporter sought unpublished data, we sent him to the source, Jury Verdict Research. We are concerned about MODERN HEALTHCARE's handling of that unpublished data. Values in your article were incorrectly presented as showing total malpractice verdicts and total million-dollar verdicts between 1991 and 1994, save for a caveat that 1994 verdicts were still being compiled. There's nothing total or complete about those values.
The fact is, not even the publishers of the Jury Verdict series claim to have entered all verdicts in their database. They do the best they can, relying on lawyer reports, computer downloads from some states and even newspaper and magazine articles. In their own words, they only claim to receive a "sufficient sample of data to produce descriptive statistics."
Thus, you won't find an actual count of malpractice verdicts in Jury Verdict's Current Award Trends in Personal Injury, 1995 edition, on which we based our statement regarding the dramatic 15-year proportional rise in million-dollar malpractice verdicts from 14% in 1980 to 32% last year.
And that's the crux of our argument. Although few cases actually result in any verdict, the increasing likelihood of a verdict exceeding $1 million encourages the filing of more lawsuits, ratchets up settlement prices, makes it more risky for defendants not to settle and increases defensive medicine costs.
MARTIN J. HATLIE
Chairman, executive committee
Health Care Liability Alliance