There have been two recent medical malpractice verdicts in Maryland—the first, in Baltimore City, was a birth injury malpractice against Johns Hopkins Hospital that yielded a jury verdict of $55 million. The second was earlier this week, where a Baltimore City jury found that a child born with cerebral palsy at Harbor Hospital was deserving of $21 million.
The verdicts themselves are somewhat misleading. Like the news reporting that a lawyer has filed a ten million dollar case, the actual number is almost meaningless. High figures are often used by lawyers to ensure that any actual verdict comes in below that number. If the judge or jury returns a verdict in excess of what the plaintiff asked for, there could be complications to collecting the entire amount.
For medical malpractice and other personal injury verdicts, the numbers are important only to enhance the “street cred” of the lawyers. The victims will never recover such high amounts, because Maryland is one of the states that have a cap on non-economic damages. This means that the family is entitled to money for clear-cut damages, like past and future medical bills, lost wages, and adaptive equipment. But money for pain, suffering, mental anguish, humiliation, inconvenience, disfigurement and other “fuzzy” damages is strictly limited. The jury doesn’t know it, but after the verdict the judge will cut whatever number they give. For the $55 million Johns Hopkins medical malpractice case, the final number is closer to $29.6 million. That is because the jury believed that the child’s injury came to a cost of $26 million in non-economic damages, but Maryland law cuts that figure to $665,000 (based on the date of the malpractice).
The usual responses to medical malpractice verdicts include:
But, according to a recent Baltimore Sun article, even the American Medical Association and the American Tort Reform Association acknowledge that there is no data to show that doctors leave the practice. Instead, they cite “anecdotal evidence.”
Research even shows that medical malpractice payments tend to go down, and that such payments represent only a fraction of the cost of the health care system (See Public Citizen).
The response from the medical community should be preventative—they should pledge that these injuries will not happen; that they will work harder to train their doctors and nurses; and that they will institute safeguards to prevent families from suffering. Birth injuries are terrible and costly. If doctors and their insurance companies don’t pay for them, then taxpayers will. Children with birth injuries will often require medical assistance, and will often be on social security.