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Med-mal payouts dropped to new low in 2011, study says

Medical malpractice payments in 2011 were at their lowest level on record, with injured patients receiving an average of only $327,600, according to a new study by consumer watchdog Public Citizen.

“The juxtaposition of declining medical malpractice payments and skyrocketing medical costs exposes bogus claims that reducing patients’ access to legal remedies will reduce costs,” said Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel with Public Citizen, in a statement.

In the report issued this month, Public Citizen analyzed data from the National Practitioner Data Bank, a federal service that tracks malpractice payments on behalf of doctors. The report found that both the number of medical payments and their inflation-adjusted value were at their lowest levels since 1991, the earliest full year for which data is available.

According to the report, the number of malpractice payments on behalf of doctors last year was 9,758, the lowest on record. The report said that the inflation-adjusted value of medical malpractice payments in 2011 was $3.2 billion.

“Even in unadjusted dollars, payments fell for the eighth straight year in 2011 and were at their lowest level since 1998,” the report stated.

The study found that the average 2011 medical malpractice payment was around $327,600.

“When adjusted by a blend of the medical services index and the [Consumer Price Index], average payments were at their lowest level in 2011 since 1995,” the study said.

Speaking to the claims of tort reform advocates that many lawsuits are frivolous, the report found that four-fifths of medical malpractice awards compensated for death, catastrophic harm or serious permanent injuries.

“Contrary to the promises of policymakers and leaders of physician groups who have spent the past two decades championing efforts to restrict patients’ legal rights, there is no evidence that patients receive any benefits in exchange for ceding their legal remedies,” said the author of the report, Taylor Lincoln, in a statement. Lincoln is research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch.

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