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Statistics show there have been some up-and-down fluctuations in the number of professional liability claims against Connecticut physicians over the last several years, indicating overall a relatively static situation. But, while the change in number of claims is insignificant, the monetary awards are not. The following statistics bear out these opposing trends. According to Gregory Pac, statistician for the state judicial system, for fiscal year 1995-1996, the number of medical malpractice claims was 384. In 1996-97, the figure was 382, and for the following year, 337. The number for 1998-99 was 382, and, finally, for 1999-2000, the number of medical malpractice actions dropped to 369. These figures, of course, leave aside the number of lawsuits against health care providers and institutions brought in federal District Court. National state court trends in the decade between 1984 and 1994 available via Caseload Highlights, which examines state court caseloads nationwide, show an increase in civil litigation of all types, excluding domestic cases, of 24 percent. Between 1975 and 1994, Caseload Highlights shows that tort filings in 16 randomly selected states approximated 200,000 during the mid-1970s and increased to more that 300,000 filings a decade later. By 1994, this number had flattened slightly, at just under 300,000 cases. Caseload Highlights also records verdict ranges by type of case. Twenty-five percent of the medical malpractice actions brought nationally resulted in jury verdicts of more than $1 million between 1984 and 1994. In medical malpractice cases tried before a jury, the percentage of plaintiff’s verdicts was the lowest of all types of torts during this same period, at 30 percent. The highest percentage of plaintiff’s verdicts was for toxic torts, with a startling 73 percent win rate. Sixty percent of automobile-related court cases tried to a jury resulted in plaintiffs’ verdicts. Half the professional malpractice actions other than those alleging medical negligence resulted in jury verdicts for plaintiffs. The median dollar amount of jury awards nationwide for medical malpractice claims was $201,000 between 1984 and 1994. Product liability actions brought the highest verdicts, with a median award of $260,000. Professional malpractice claims saw median jury awards of $156,000. In some medical malpractice cases, the awards have soared. In one Connecticut case, a jury awarded $27 million, the single largest jury award in a medical malpractice case in the state. The claim was made on behalf of a 17-year-old automobile accident victim, who alleged that he underwent unnecessary surgery at Yale New Haven Hospital to correct a defect in the aorta, resulting in devastating injuries, including blindness, neurological and cognitive defects, loss of motor function and speech. Two other cases in the state brought awards of more than $12 million. One was a jury verdict in Hartford, Conn., of $12.7 million to Professor Leslie Craine, who sued Trinity College when it denied her tenure. A $12.2 million verdict was awarded by a Connecticut jury to a 25-year-old medical intern who developed HIV after a needle stick while working at Yale New Haven Hospital. Yale was found liable for improperly teaching the intern how to insert an arterial line. The remarkable increase in monetary awards may have a number of sources. The Internet has undoubtedly raised the public’s awareness of malpractice litigation and its potentially lucrative results. A cruise of the Web to research this article brought up hundreds of sites from law firms touting their track records in personal injury cases. Some legal Web sites purport to discuss medical malpractice victims’ legal rights, but actually provide promotional blurbs. See, for example, AitkenLaw.com and GotTrouble.com. The title of the latter describes the problem precisely. If you’ve got trouble, the message seems to be, you might profit. Other reasons for high damages awarded by juries is subject to debate. An analysis by the Jury Research Institute, at www.jri-inc.com, confirms that juries seldom pay attention to legal standards. Relying upon focus groups, interviews with jurors post-verdict, and observations of mock trials and deliberations, it comments that “[r]arely are words like ‘preponderance of the evidence’ or ‘guilty beyond a reasonable doubt’ uttered during jury deliberations….” Most intriguing is the conclusion that many juries do not accept expert testimony at all, but interpret evidence on their own. “Rather than accepting the conclusions presented by witnesses, jurors generally feel they have sufficient expertise to be able to judge the issues themselves,” according to the above Web site. High jury awards may also be the result of wishful thinking. Jurors may see themselves in the role of the injured plaintiff. Identification with an individual who has experienced loss of control of his life is more likely than is empathy for a physician or a hospital. Decreasing satisfaction with medical care coupled with the growing sense of powerlessness over time, employment, family issues, the economy or the government creates a fertile environment for the growth of contemporaneous desires to reward and to punish. The physician perspective toward lawsuits was surveyed by Medical Economics in March, 2000. Of 7,000 physicians and osteopaths interviewed, 58 percent had been sued over the course of their careers. More than one-third of the practitioners responding to the survey reported that they had been sued at least three times. Approximately 25 percent of general surgeons, obstetricians, and orthopedic surgeons have been sued five or more times. Notwithstanding the proliferation of legal activity, the results have been favorable from a defense perspective. Of over 1,000 doctors interviewed by Medical Economics who had been sued, half reported that cases brought against them were withdrawn before trial. One hundred seventy one cases were dismissed by the court. In 182 cases, there was a jury verdict in favor of the physician, and in 53 cases there was a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff. Sixty-nine percent of physicians polled in 1999 expected to be sued at some point during their medical careers. The anticipation of legal activity was correlated to practice specialty, with 83 percent of obstetrician-gynecologists anticipating legal action over the course of their professional lives and 80 percent of gastroenterologists expecting suit. Just over half of internal medicine and family practice specialists believed they would be defendants in medical malpractice actions at some point in their careers.

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