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Colossal medical malpractice verdicts may be warping the scale, but most awards still cluster around the $1 million mark, a nationwide study shows. While the average verdict in 2002 was $6.2 million — up from $3.9 million in 2001 and $3.3 million in 2000 — the median verdict stayed virtually flat at near $1 million for the same three-year period. The figures were reported on April 1 in the annual Personal Injury Evaluation Handbook published by Jury Verdict Research, of Horsham, Pa., which maintains a nationwide database of 213,000 plaintiff and defense verdicts. The report listed median awards for various types of injuries related to malpractice claims from 1996 to 2002. They range from $5.4 million for brain damage to $1.4 million for cancer, $1 million for spinal injuries, $670,000 for eye injuries, $300,000 for genital injuries and $166,000 for emotional distress. The report said 52 percent of medical malpractice verdicts exceeded $1 million in the years 1999-2002, up from 37 percent of verdicts in 1996-98. And although defendants win most medical malpractice trials, the winning percentage is waning. Plaintiffs won 42 percent of such cases in 2002, up from 40 percent in 2001, 37 percent in 2000 and 35 percent in 1999. Among birth-injury suits, plaintiffs won 60 percent of verdicts in 2002, up from 55 percent in 2001, 34 percent in 2000 and 45 percent in 1999, the report said. The new data adds fuel to both sides’ fire in the debate over the effect of rising malpractice verdicts on doctors’ insurance premiums. Insurance carriers say mean verdicts are a useful measure of the burden faced by malpractice carriers. Robert Conroy, general counsel for the Medical Society of New Jersey, says Jury Verdict Research’s spin is dictated by its primary readership being plaintiffs’ lawyers. “If anything, one would think they would try to downplay the significance of any crisis,” he says. But Jury Verdict Research managing editor Jennifer Shannon says the median verdict is more representative. “The mean does tend to get attention, especially in the press, because it does stand out so much,” she says. “We try to bring attention to the median because we feel it’s more accurate.” Shannon adds that readership is on both the plaintiff and defense sides. The new data come just as the New Jersey Legislature appears close to adopting a malpractice reform bill. On March 29, the state Senate approved a bill that would subsidize malpractice insurance for certain high-risk specialties like obstetrics and fund the program with extra fees on doctors and lawyers. The Assembly, which adopted a slightly different version of the bill, is expected to approve the Senate version next month.

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