Atlanta, GA, USA - June 15, 2022: Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Emory University Hospital is a quaternary care facility specializing in the care of acutely ill adult patients.

Rising Tide of Mega Malpractice Awards: Impact on Healthcare and Insurance Premiums

In December, the “Take Care of Maya” lawsuit concluded with a Florida jury ordering Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, to pay a landmark $261 million to a young patient and her family for mishandling her care after an ER visit. This came on the heels of a New York jury mandating Westchester Medical Center Health Network to compensate a patient and his family $120 million due to delays in stroke treatment that led to brain damage.

Such enormous malpractice settlements are becoming more common across the U.S., as indicated by recent findings from TransRe, a global reinsurance firm that monitors large verdicts. “2023 shattered all previous records for high medical malpractice verdicts,” stated Richard Henderson, a senior vice president at TransRe. He noted that the average of the 50 largest verdicts in 2023 exceeded that of any prior year. Last year saw 57 verdicts of $10 million or more, with over half surpassing $25 million.

The trend of soaring verdicts, previously concentrated in states like New York, Illinois, and Florida, is now spreading to states like Utah and Georgia, surprising many experts. Robert E. White Jr, president of TDC Group and The Doctors Company, pointed out that this shift is partly due to the dismantling of tort reforms, such as Georgia’s cap on noneconomic damages being declared unconstitutional.

The unpredictability of these verdicts poses a new challenge. While most malpractice cases are settled or dismissed before reaching trial, the threat of large jury awards influences settlement negotiations and increases claim resolution costs. Experts argue that these verdicts not only measure but also inflate the expectations for settlement amounts, impacting insurance and driving up medical malpractice premiums.

Several factors contribute to the rise in these so-called “nuclear” verdicts, including a perceived public anger towards the healthcare system post-pandemic and the strategic narratives crafted by plaintiffs’ attorneys. Moreover, the growing practice of third-party litigation financing, where outside firms invest in lawsuits for a share of potential awards, is believed to embolden plaintiffs to pursue larger claims.

Although these eye-catching verdicts frequently make headlines, they often undergo reductions upon appeal or result in negotiated settlements for lesser amounts. Nonetheless, the trend towards larger awards and settlements is pushing medical malpractice insurance premiums upward, with significant variations across regions and specialties. As the industry grapples with these challenges, the ultimate impact on healthcare providers and their patients remains a concern.

The escalating trend of mega malpractice awards is a critical issue that demands attention for several reasons. Firstly, these enormous verdicts significantly impact the financial stability of healthcare providers and institutions, potentially leading to higher insurance premiums for medical professionals and, by extension, higher healthcare costs for patients. Secondly, the fear of facing such punitive awards could deter medical professionals from practicing in high-risk specialties or in regions more prone to nuclear verdicts, exacerbating the existing challenges in access to care. Additionally, the prospect of facing such litigation may encourage defensive medicine, where doctors order unnecessary tests and procedures to protect themselves from potential lawsuits, further inflating healthcare costs without necessarily improving patient outcomes. Understanding and addressing the implications of these mega verdicts is essential for maintaining a balanced, accessible, and affordable healthcare system.

In response to the surge in mega malpractice awards and the evolving landscape of medical malpractice litigation, an Atlanta medical malpractice lawyer plays a crucial role in navigating these complex waters. Armed with a deep understanding of Georgia’s legal intricacies and the shifting dynamics of tort reform, such lawyers provide invaluable guidance to healthcare professionals and institutions facing potential litigation. By offering expert legal representation, they not only help in defending against outsized claims but also assist in mitigating the risk of exorbitant awards. Their expertise includes crafting strategic defenses, negotiating settlements to avoid the unpredictability of jury verdicts, and advising on best practices to minimize liability exposure. Moreover, with their finger on the pulse of local and national legal trends, Atlanta medical malpractice lawyers are instrumental in advising healthcare entities on adapting to the changing legal environment, thus safeguarding their professional reputation and financial stability in the face of this challenging climate.


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