There's a lot of negative political press these days about medical malpractice claims suggesting that juries are just handing out ridiculously high settlements. Do these arguments have merit?
According to several decades of studies on the subject: no. Doctors are sympathetic defendants and tend to win three out of every four cases at trial. Even when a large award is given, the odds are good that the huge verdict that gets splashed across the papers will get whittled down during the appeals process and eventually settle for a much smaller sum.
Take the $53 million medical malpractice verdict recently awarded in Cook County to the family of a boy born with cerebral palsy and intellectual disabilities after doctors at the University of Chicago Medical Center ignored signs of fetal distress and delayed the C-section delivery that could have prevented his disabilities.
The largest verdict on record for the county, the defendants were able to get the judge to reduce the verdict by $950,000 due to a technical error but denied a new trial. However, the hospital has yet to appeal the verdict, which means that those millions are still a long way from being paid out.
Is that large of a verdict really unreasonable? The child, who is already 12 years old, will suffer the life-long complications of a devastating condition that requires specialized care and treatment. His entire family is bound to be burdened by the needs of a severely disabled child. His parents have most likely suffered tremendous emotional distress over what was an avoidable birth injury. In light of the cost of medical services these days, in order to secure the physical and medical care necessary for the boy's entire lifetime plus compensate the family for what it has endured as a whole, $53 million doesn't seem particularly unreasonable.
The same studies that found juries tend to favor doctors also found that juries give awards in correlation with the severity of the victim's injuries. They look at the economic losses already suffered and look ahead toward lost economic opportunities in the future—such as those suffered by a young boy who will likely never grow up to have a career or independent life of his own.
Large medical malpractice verdicts aren't a whim by out-of-control juries. They're reasonable responses to severe injuries. If you've been the victim of medical malpractice, consider consulting an attorney today.
Source: Cook County Record, "Cook County judge: No new trial, $52M medmal verdict stands vs U of Chicago Medical Center," Jonathan Bilyk, Jan. 11, 2017