This article on medical malpractice payouts by state has been expertly Reviewed By: Serah Waweru, Esq., on May 31, 2023
Medical malpractice lawsuits are relatively common in the United States. With that in mind, the amount of settlement money patients get from these kinds of cases will greatly vary in every state. Just to give you some perspective, let’s take a look at the current medical malpractice payouts for every state, as well as factors that could potentially affect the amount of compensation awarded to patients and the odds of winning this type of case.
Medical Malpractice Payouts in Each US State: 2023 Update
The concept of a lawsuit can be scary, but unfortunately, it is not uncommon for most healthcare providers in the country. In fact, a recent poll by the American Medical Association showed that 34% of the doctors they contacted said they had been sued for malpractice at least once. According to the 2021 Medscape Malpractice Report, the most common reason for malpractice lawsuits is failure to diagnose a medical condition.
That said, the settlement amount and number of claims for medical malpractice greatly vary in every state. Studies have shown that Florida had the highest number of cases for medical claims, with 1,034 claims in 2021.
Other states with a high number of malpractice claims during the year include:
- New York: 907 claims
- California: 869 claims
- Pennsylvania: 610 claims
- Texas: 477 claims
On the other hand, Vermont had the lowest number of malpractice claims during the year, with only seven. States with fewer than 20 cases of malpractice claims include:
- Wyoming: 8 claims
- North Dakota: 9 claims
- South Dakota: 11 claims
- Alaska: 13 claims
- Delaware: 18 claims
Let’s go to the settlement for malpractice claims in every state.
Although Florida had the highest number of cases, New York paid more for medical malpractice claims during this period. The total payout for medical malpractice cases in New York was $418 million.
Other states that had the highest total medical malpractice payout costs were:
- Florida: $306 million
- Pennsylvania: $240 million
- California: $201 million
- New Jersey: $150 million
- Illinois: $125 million
When it comes to low medical malpractice payouts, Vermont still tops the list. The state made a total payout of $2.31 million for that period.
Aside from Vermont, these states had low medical malpractice payouts during the same period:
- Wyoming: $2.53 million
- North Dakota: $2.59 million
- South Dakota: $2.92 million
- Alaska: $3.97 million
What does it mean if a U.S. state has the lowest total payout cost for medical malpractice? Does it mean there is a lack of medical malpractice incidents or negligence in the state?
This could be due to several reasons, such as:
- Low number of cases
- Efficient risk management programs
- Low individual payout amounts
- Medical malpractice reform (i.e., tort reform)
What Factors Determine the Value of a Medical Malpractice Settlement?
The payout amount for a medical malpractice claim depends on several factors. Let’s go over some of them:
1. Breach of the Standard of Care
“Breach of the Standard Care” is one of the most difficult elements of medical malpractice to prove. To win a successful malpractice claim, you need to prove that the doctor failed to provide the adequate level of care that competent and skilled healthcare providers in the same field would have provided under the same conditions. And because of the doctor’s negligent action, it resulted in significant harm to the patient.
The current highest payout due to negligence and falsified medical records happened in California. The parents were awarded $74.5 million against a doctor who was negligent in the delivery of their baby daughter, who developed cerebral palsy.
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2. Severity of the Injury
The severity of an injury could mean different things in medical malpractice cases. To qualify as severe, the injury should result in any of the following:
- Lifelong disability (e.g., paralysis, severe head trauma, stroke, and total muscle function loss)
- Chronic, debilitating pain or prolonged suffering
- Life-threatening medical conditions that may require emergency interventions
- Developmental delays, lifelong disabilities, or other serious complications in newborns during childbirth
- Severe damage to the patient’s vital organs, which could lead to organ failure or transplantation
- The loss of the patient’s life
3. Special Damages
Special damages, also called economic damages, refer to the financial costs that occur as a result of the malpractice. Examples of special damages include the following: financial losses (e.g., lost income), previous or future medical expenses, and loss of earning capacity.
4. Non-Economic Damages
As the term suggests, non-economic damages refer to compensation for non-monetary and subjective losses. Examples of non-economic damages are emotional distress, physical pain and discomfort, permanent damage to reputation, and loss of consortium (e.g., loss of a normal parent-child relationship due to medical negligence).
5. Establishing Factual Causation
Factual causation means proving that the healthcare provider’s actions directly caused the patient’s injuries. Here is a good example:
A patient goes to the emergency room with chest pain, loss of vision in one eye, lack of balance, and numbness in the arm. The on-duty doctor fails to recognize the symptoms of a stroke and sends him home with the wrong diagnosis and treatment.
When the patient gets home, he experiences a second stroke, causing him to fall into a coma and eventually die.
So, how do you prove factual causation in such a situation?
Establishing causation can be confusing and difficult. You need to prove that a patient’s injury would not have happened if it were not for the action of the healthcare provider. That is why it is important to seek the advice of a specialist, such as a reputable medical malpractice attorney, for a case evaluation and possible legal representation.
6. Testimony of an Expert Witness
Unlike a slip-and-fall lawsuit and other types of negligence cases, a medical malpractice case will almost always require the testimony of an expert witness. In fact, some states, such as Florida, New York, and Texas, will require plaintiffs to provide expert affidavits or testimony to initiate a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Here is what you need to know about using expert witnesses:
- Medical malpractice experts are usually medical professionals, such as doctors and nurses, whose experience and training make them qualified to give their opinion about a specific medical specialty or subspecialty.
- Medical malpractice experts are supposed to give their opinion on whether the defendant rendered treatment or performed a procedure that deviated from the accepted standard of care in the medical field.
What Is the Percentage of Winning a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
Proving a healthcare provider was negligent is more challenging than other types of personal injury cases. That is why it is not surprising that the percentage of medical malpractice cases won in the United States is relatively low, especially without the help of an experienced attorney.
A two-decade study published in the journal Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research showed that doctors usually win a medical malpractice lawsuit 80% to 90% of the time because of weak evidence. And even when the victims present strong evidence of medical negligence, doctors and other medical professionals still win 50% of the cases.
There are several possible reasons why it is difficult to win a medical malpractice claim against healthcare providers:
- It is difficult for plaintiffs who do not have expert knowledge or training in the medical field to convincingly explain complex medical concepts, jargon, and treatments. Therefore, it is challenging for them to prove that a healthcare provider deviated from the standard of care.
- The plaintiff and their legal counsel must convince the jury that the healthcare provider’s actions directly caused the injuries they suffered.
- In most cases, healthcare providers and their insurance companies can afford to hire the best legal teams to fight the plaintiff’s case.
- In most states, plaintiffs must first obtain a Certificate of Merit to even be able to proceed with a medical malpractice claim.
What Is a Certificate of Merit In a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?
In cases involving medical malpractice, a certificate of merit is a document that must be filed by the plaintiff at the beginning of the case to even have a chance of the case being heard. The goal of this document is to demonstrate that there is a reasonable basis to believe that medical negligence occurred.
While the specific requirements for a certificate of merit can vary depending on the jurisdiction, in most cases, it must be signed by a qualified medical expert, such as a doctor or healthcare professional. This individual will confirm that they have reviewed the case and believe that the defendant (the healthcare provider) deviated from the accepted standard of care and that this deviation caused harm to the patient.
The certificate of merit is designed to prevent frivolous lawsuits by requiring plaintiffs to obtain expert opinions early in the legal process. In other words, since medical malpractice lawsuits require a lot of time, money, and resources, states would want to ensure that you have a valid case before it’s even heard.
Also, keep in mind that healthcare providers are essential workers in any society. So, making it easy to sue them could mean creating a healthcare crisis because no healthcare professional would want to work on a patient and risk getting sued, losing their license, or even going to jail if criminally charged.
Is There a Maximum Payout for Medical Negligence?
The short answer is yes (in most cases).
Most states have passed laws that put a limit (or cap) on the amount of money that could be awarded in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Many other states that currently don’t cap medical malpractice payouts used to at some point, but it was declared unconstitutional.
There are currently 29 states that have tort reform. Some of these states include California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, and Texas.
Tort reform is an attempt on the part of lawmakers or a state to limit litigation claims and decrease compensation payouts. In other words, the state decides to make it more difficult for plaintiffs to file a case against those who hurt them (i.e., healthcare providers). The goal is to protect medical professionals from getting sued for their negligence.
From the data above, the minimum and maximum payouts for medical malpractice can vary from state to state. The amount awarded to you or your chances of winning the case depends on many factors. And, sometimes, you can’t just file a malpractice claim without expert testimony.
So, while there is no guarantee you will win the case, it is important to consult with a medical malpractice and negligence attorney who is knowledgeable about the laws and regulations of your jurisdiction. The right legal counsel can walk you through the complex legal process and help you receive fair compensation for your injuries and damages.