What's the average medical malpractice settlement?


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Question:

What is the average medical malpractice settlement amount? Do these cases usually go to court or settle? Are settlement amounts about the same as jury awards?

Answer:

Let’s take these questions one at a time. First, it isn’t possible to provide an “average” dollar value when it comes to the terms of settlement agreements for all medical malpractice cases. That kind of data isn’t available, and even if it were, it wouldn’t do much to help predict what will happen in your case. (Learn how medical malpractice settlements works.)

The most important factors that will determine what a medical malpractice case might be worth have nothing to do with how other cases have turned out, at least dollar-wise.

The most important considerations include the severity of injury or harm resulting from the alleged malpractice. How much additional medical care will be necessary? How long will complications persist? What is the impact on the injured patient’s life? Is there long-lasting or permanent disability or interference with quality of life?

(See How Long Does It Take a Medical Malpractice Case to Settle to find more information about the factors that add time to to the settlement process.)

Another key consideration is the issue of fault. How clear is it that malpractice did actually occur? Was the error an egregious one (a sponge or surgical instrument left inside a patient) or is it more of a close call where expert medical witnesses for both sides have differing opinions (such as a misdiagnosis case involving a rare condition)?   

In terms of dollar amounts and resolution of medical malpractice cases -- including settlements before trial versus jury awards after trial -- we can provide a statistical snapshot of some fairly recent trends in medical malpractice cases. Here are a few highlights from two studies (one from the Journal of the American Medical Association and the other from the New England Journal of Medicine).

* Settlement-based resolutions of medical malpractice cases favored the plaintiff in 61% of cases, but when cases make it to civil court trials, plaintiffs prevail on only 21% of jury verdicts.

* Average compensation for medical malpractice that occurred in the inpatient setting was around $363,000, while the average award for healthcare mistakes in the outpatient setting was about $290,000.

* The average jury award after a medical malpractice verdict in court (after a full civil trial) is almost twice the average out-of-court settlement ($799,000 for jury awards and $462,000 for settlements). But keep in mind that plaintiffs prevailed in only about 1 in 5 jury verdicts.  

For a closer look at statistics and trends in medical malpractice litigation, check out the links that follow this Q&A.

by: , J.D.

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