Most in Illinois settle medical malpractice cases

BY Dennis Conrad Associated Press

From 2000 to 2004, few medical malpractice insurance claims in Illinois and six other states closed with a payout to the person seeking compensation, with most settling before a trial, according to a Justice Department report released Sunday.

In Illinois, where the debate over medical malpractice reform has caused fireworks for many years, only about 12 percent of closed claims involving physicians or surgeons resulted in a payout. Of those claims, however, 17 percent generated payments of $1 million or more.

About 95 percent of claims in all the states — Illinois, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada and Texas — were settled before trial, usually after a lawsuit had been filed, the report stated.

In 2005, the Illinois General Assembly approved changes in a law meant to encourage more competition for insurance. It followed repeated stories of doctors fleeing the state or retiring because of steeply increasing insurance premiums — some of which had more than tripled, to $100,000 a year.

Doctors and insurers blamed the rates on out-of-control lawsuit awards, while trial lawyers and victim advocates condemned insurance mismanagement.

In response, legislators approved some limits on lawsuit awards but strengthened state oversight of doctors and insurers.

The report found 42 percent of Illinois’ medical malpractice injuries occurred in hospital inpatient facilities and 24 percent took place in physicians’ offices.

Median damages paid to medical malpractice claimants have increased 49 percent in Illinois in the last decade, possibly the result of increasing health care costs and the desire of many attorneys to take to court only those claims involving severe injuries or wrongful death claims, said report authors Thomas H. Cohen and Kristen A. Hughes.

In Illinois, about 21 percent of insurance payouts in closed medical malpractice claims resulted in amounts of less than $100,000, with nearly a quarter in the $500,000 to $999,999 range.

Authors warned against comparing Illinois with the other states. Some, like Illinois, only collect data on doctors, while others gather data from almost all health care providers. The National Association of Insurance Carriers selected the states for the study because they had comprehensive claims databases, officials said.

On average, the states took 15 to 24 months before a medical injury was reported to insurance carriers. For Illinois and Nevada, it took 67 months on average to close after injury.

“Several factors influence the decision concerning when to file a medical malpractice claim, including statute of limitations restrictions and the need to ascertain various medical, work-related, and pain and suffering expenses,” the authors said.
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