Study of Ill. Med-Mal Reports Tort System Not the Reason for Increases in Docs’ Liability Premiums

May 10, 2005

A study of medical malpractice in Illinois conducted by a Duke University law professor finds that the tort system is not the cause for dramatic increases in doctors’ malpractice insurance premiums.

Professor Neil Vidmar was commissioned by the Illinois State Bar Association to analyze all available data to determine whether medical malpractice claims and jury awards had increased in recent years. The study looked especially at cases in Cook, DuPage, Madison, and St. Clair counties, and covered the period 1992-2005.

“The Illinois tort system does not appear to be the cause of the undisputed fact that doctors’ liability insurance premiums showed dramatic rises,” Vidmar concluded. “It is time to consider other causes.”

The study, titled “Medical Malpractice and the Tort System in Illinois,” also analyzed claims that doctors are leaving the state or certain areas of the state as a result of jury awards. The study shows a steady increase in the absolute number of total patient care physicians in Illinois, from 25, 514 in 1993 to 30,264 in 2003, the latest year for which American Medical Association figures are available.

With some year-to-year variations, an upward or steady trend was found for Ob-Gyn specialists and neurological surgeons, two practice areas experiencing steep premium increases. The study also said American Medical Association statistics through 2003, the latest year available, do not support claims of a loss of doctors in Madison and St. Clair counties.

Among other findings in the study:

— For Cook and DuPage counties, the data show no upward trends in
malpractice claim filings or in filings per 100 treating physicians
from 1994 through 2004, when adjusted for population growth. There has been no increase in jury trials or in plaintiff win-rates between 2001 and 2004.

— For Madison and St. Clair counties, there have been only 11 jury
verdicts favoring plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases since 1992.
Only two of these cases were in excess of $1 million, and one of them
was overturned on appeal. There is no evidence to support the
perception that medical malpractice jury trials in these counties are
frequent or that jury verdicts for plaintiffs are outrageous.

An analysis of data from Cook and DuPage counties revealed that a proposed $500,000 cap on non-economic damages would have resulted in a minimal reduction in overall payouts to plaintiffs and would be unlikely to affect doctors’ liability insurance premiums. But such a cap would result in significantly reduced compensation for some individual plaintiffs who suffered catastrophic injuries due to medical negligence.

ISBA president Ole Bly Pace III of Sterling sent copies of the 80-page study to legislative leaders. Pace noted that detailed records on all closed medical malpractice claims have been collected by the Illinois Department of Insurance, but to date, those records have not been disclosed publicly or to the General Assembly.

“The Illinois State Bar Association submits this report and study in the belief that decisions concerning such an important matter should be made based on facts rather than anecdotes,” Pace said.

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