New medical malpractice claims dropped to a record low in 2003, and total payouts to medical malpractice plaintiffs fell about 21 percent, according to a report released Thursday by the Missouri Department of Insurance.
The report also found that doctors' malpractice insurance premiums rose by 121 percent between 2000 and 2003 while payouts to plaintiffs rose only 14 percent.
"The data doesn't seem to support what is clearly going on in the marketplace, the increase in the rates," said Randy McConnell, a spokesman for the department. "It's difficult at this point and time to discern all the reasons why this is happening."
Insurance department officials said the report highlights two trends: The number of malpractice claims being filed and paid in Missouri is declining, and medical malpractice payouts are increasing at a slower pace than doctors' premiums.
The National Practitioner Data Bank, a federally mandated database of malpractice claims against physicians, found that the number of paid claims in Missouri fell by about 30 percent since 1991.
The average claim in 2003 involved permanent, significant injury, such as deafness, loss of a limb or loss of an organ, the report said, based on insurance company evaluations of the claims.
Nationwide, claims are down, and payouts have been fairly steady when adjusted for inflation, said Joanne Doroshow, executive director of the Center for Justice and Democracy, a consumer group.
"The notion that these cases are frivolous or that people look to the system as a lottery is completely contradicted by any real facts," Doroshow said.
For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.