Doctors Fight Back on Malpractice

Physician's Money Digest, May 31 2004, Volume 11, Issue 10

It's a jungle out there in lawsuit land, and physiciansare beginning to get tough on potential litigants. Onetactic is the medical equivalent of a prenuptial agreement,with doctors asking patients to sign a waiverpromising not to file a malpractice suit for trivial reasons,or, in some cases, for any reason at all.

According to the Physician Insurers Association ofAmerica (PIAA; www.thepiaa.org), a trade associationof more than 60 malpractice insurers, more than twothirds of the malpractice suits filed in 2002 weredropped or dismissed. Only 1% were tried and decidedin favor of the plaintiffs. Even dropped or dismissedmalpractice claims come at a cost, however. Accordingto PIAA, the average expense to a malpractice insureron such a claim is about $16,000.

Many doctors also say they are pressured to settle amalpractice claim even when they are in the right, thussaving the insurance company the legal costs of contestingthe suit. Because of this, aplaintiff's lawyer often files a"shotgun" suit aimed at anydoctor whose name shows up ona patient's chart, even if the doctorhad absolutely no effect on themedical outcome. Again, PIAA statisticsshow that about 25% of themalpractice suits in 2002 were settled out of court,which backs up the medical profession's view.

When faced with a meritless malpractice lawsuit,however, doctors rarely countersue. A company calledMedical Justice (877-633-5878; www.medicaljustice.com) may change that, however. Now operating in 30states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, thecompany offers a supplement to traditional malpracticeinsurance that will cover the cost of a countersuitagainst a baseless malpractice suit.

In addition, the company will review the tactics ofthe plaintiff's attorney to determine if disciplinary orcriminal action is appropriate. Fees for coverage rangefrom a low of $625 to $1800 a year, depending on adoctor's specialty and location. The company's Web sitealso provides the names of covered doctors, which itclaims acts as a deterrent to potential malpractice suits.