How do malpractice claims affect medical professionals?
While medical malpractice insurance (often called professional liability insurance) will protect income and assets by paying out damages awarded against medical professionals, medical malpractice claims do bring other far-reaching consequences.
Malpractice insurance covers economic compensatory damages like loss of income, medical expenses, and future costs of medical care.
It also covers non-economic damages like pain and suffering, scarring, humiliation, permanent loss of a limb or organ, reduced enjoyment of life, etc. However it does not cover punitive damages.
Punitive damages are awarded in the case where the healthcare professional intended to cause harm to the patient. Their action was willful and reckless. In this case, punitive damages are imposed by the court, to punish the defendant.These damages are not covered by medical malpractice insurance.
The impact on a physicians health
Medical professionals typically have heavy workloads already and the added time and stress that it takes to fight a malpractice claim will impact their work, resulting in a loss of income and it could even take a heavy toll on their overall wellbeing. Many medical malpractice cases last 2-5 years, which is a long time for this kind of stress to be hanging over a healthcare provider’s head.
There have been several studies on the impact of defending a malpractice claim on the health of physicians. These studies have generally found that the process of defending a malpractice claim can be stressful and can have a negative impact on the mental and physical health of physicians. Some of the specific ways in which the process of defending a malpractice claim can affect the health of physicians include:
- Increased levels of anxiety and depression
- Decreased job satisfaction and sense of accomplishment
- Negative effects on relationships with colleagues and patients
- Difficulty sleeping
- Negative effects on overall well-being
It is important for physicians to have support and resources available to them during the process of defending a malpractice claim, as it can be a challenging and stressful experience. This may include seeking the help of a mental health professional or joining a support group for physicians who have experienced a similar situation.
The impact on reputation
The reputation of a medical professional or facility can be impacted by successful cases against them, in that a plaintiff’s attorneys will seek out any history of malpractice to use against them in court, or even to use as an indicator of the potential success of a claim. If past claims were not well-defended or the case exposed a lack of documentation on their part, they may even become the victim of predatory malpractice lawyers, who see them as an easy target.
Insurers will also become increasingly wary of covering a medical professional who has a history of malpractice claims against them, and may require higher premiums to cover an increased risks of losses.
Legal defense costs for medical malpractice
The cost of defending the average malpractice lawsuit is between $25,000 – $50,000. This includes claim administration, attorneys fees, expert witnesses and court fees. Cases that are very complex or take years to resolve, may cost in excess of $100,000.
Depending on their policy, a medical professional may be responsible for some or all of these costs.
Medical malpractice claims usually have a tremendous impact on medical professionals, even when the plaintiff is unsuccessful. They impact the health, reputation and finances of the defendant.
Although medical professionals can never hope to completely prevent medical malpractice claims from being levied against them, it makes sense to take steps to minimize the risk of this wherever possible.
See the section on minimizing medical malpractice claims.