Lawsuit: 'The Worst Experience Ever' and 'A Total Surprise'

Mark Crane


July 24, 2013

In This Article

Awards to Plaintiffs Are Getting Larger

The plaintiff received no monetary award or settlement in 57% of the lawsuits in our survey. About one third of plaintiffs received up to $500,000; another 11% received more than $1 million.

"The average cost of claims has been steadily increasing for years, but the number of million-dollar cases has tripled over the past few years," said Dr. Anderson. "Plaintiffs' attorneys get very sophisticated in arguing for big damages and enlisting the sympathy of jurors. But another reason is what I'd call monetary desensitization. The average award of a few hundred thousand dollars doesn't seem like such a large number anymore. As a society, we talk about billions and trillions of dollars very easily. So $1 million verdicts don't seem so shocking anymore."

Precious Time Spent in Litigation

About 28% of physicians said they spent more than 40 hours preparing for their defense -- before the trial. That means securing and reviewing records and medical articles, preparing for depositions, and having discussions with their insurer and attorneys. Another 30% of respondents spent more than 40 hours in court and trial-related meetings.

As onerous as it sounds, this is time well spent. "Doctors take this very seriously," said Rosenberg. "They get actively involved in the defense, especially if they have a partner who can watch the practice while they're at trial or preparing for it. That's a problem for solo doctors."

Insurers often require physicians to attend every minute of their trials.

Our survey found that 22% of cases were resolved within 1 year, 39% between 1 and 2 years, and 28% between 3 and 5 years; 11% dragged on for more than 5 years.

"The length of the litigation process is a top complaint by physicians," said Dr. Lembitz. "They don't understand why it takes so long. In some jurisdictions, the court dockets are so full that it can take 15 months before you even get there. Then lawyers bicker over depositions and experts. Some lawyers, on both sides, use delay as a strategy, believing that extending the case will work in their favor."

"Budget crises in the states have curtailed access to courts, with fewer judges and open court dates," agrees Dr. Anderson. "Cases take years to resolve because the parties place a fundamental difference on the value of a claim. From our perspective, if we think there is no liability by the doctor, then our settlement offer is zero. Other times, we would settle, but the plaintiff's demand is outrageously high. It takes 2 sides to settle a case."


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