Deflating the Litigation Myths

Reported in The Washington Post Tues., May 8, 2007:

“Juries in medical malpractice cases tend to sympathize with the doctors being sued rather than the patients who are suing them, a law professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia has concluded after analyzing three decades of research on the subject.”

And the bigger part of the study is that doctors and hospitals almost always win these cases, regardless of whether that’s the right outcome. Philip Peters is publishing his study in the Michigan Law Review. He finds that injured consumers win only about 27 percent of all cases that go to trial against doctors and hospitals. Patients lose cases that independent medical reviewers say they should win.

This isn’t news to anyone who represents injured consumers in the courtroom. The study makes the point that doctors often win cases that they should lose. Jurors aren’t told about what goes on behind the scenes. The doctor’s insurance carrier pours money in for jury consultants and focus groups. The defense witnesses generally practice their testimony with the help of consultants, videotape sessions, and all the bells and whistles that money can buy.

Even with the statistics showing that doctors win the great majority of cases that go to trial, the insurance industry’s spokespeople decry the profits from frivolous lawsuits. That is one odd idea. Juries don’t award large sums of money in frivolous lawsuits. In fact, they don’t award any money in frivolous lawsuits. And that’s the way it should be. But here is what is absurd: How can anyone make money on a frivolous lawsuit? Next time you hear someone spouting off, just ask how that works. I’m still waiting for someone to explain it to me.

David F. Sugerman

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