Dr. Raskin dicusses the problem that many doctors, including radiologists, have regarding medical malpractice liability insurance.
is a neuroradiologist in Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Internal Legal
Counsel for the Florida Radiological Society; and a Voluntary
Associate Professor of Radiology at the University of Miami
School of Medicine, Miami, FL. He is also a member of the
editorial board of this journal.
We face a crisis in the United States regarding medical
malpractice liability insurance. This is especially true in states
that do not have a cap on noneconomic damage awards. The frequency
of million-dollar awards in noncap states is well above the
national average. California passed medical liability reform
legislation in 1975 that caps noneconomic damages at $250,000.
California's reform preserves the rights of those who have been
truly injured. It has stood the test of time and now serves as a
model for state and federal reforms. Several other states now have
enacted similar reforms. Medical malpractice insurance rates remain
relatively stable in these states, while they continue to soar in
states without caps. Many medical liability insurers have left
high-risk states, and several have stopped underwriting medical
malpractice liability insurance entirely. Others set narrow
guidelines defining the physicians they are willing to insure.
Plaintiff attorneys claim the problem is not the jury system but
bad doctors, greedy insurance companies, and a staggering stock
market. That is not so.
In reality, the public has become desensitized to large sums,
and no longer thinks of a million dollars as a lot of money. Sports
figures routinely make several million each year with an increasing
number making tens of millions. This is also fueled by the lottery
winnings, as well as popular television quiz shows that can make
someone an instant millionaire. Jurors seem to have no problem
making someone a millionaire, even if they can't become
millionaires themselves. The jury awards continue to increase, with
the median award in the year 2000 more than $1,000,000. Settlement
medians are significantly lower, making it somewhat more attractive
for insurers to settle rather than risk greater exposure at a jury
trial, not to mention the extra costs of defending a case to a jury
The probability of a physician being sued for medical
malpractice in the United States is approximately one in four. The
incidence of lawsuits has increased for all fields of medicine,
including radiology. What is most alarming is the increase in the
number of million-dollar or higher jury awards. From 1998 to 1999,
approximately 45% of jury awards were a million dollars or more,
compared with 39% from 1997 to 1998. The average jury award for
medical malpractice more than tripled between 1994 and 2000, from
$1.1 million to $3.5 million.
Radiology has its own special problem with liability insurance.
While the average indemnification has doubled in the last 15 years
for all physicians, it has tripled for radiologists. Larger awards
for pain and suffering contribute to this amount. There is a
growing hue and cry by the American public to limit the amount of
jury awards for pain and suffering.
We now have a surgeon as U.S. Senate majority leader and a
President who supports tort reforms. Radiologists must actively
support the efforts of federal and state politicians at capping
noneconomic damages. The time is now!