Doctors wince at rates

Business Journal
Friday, November 29, 2002

Five hours and 10 minutes into labor, Carli Snell's fetal heart rate dropped. It dropped again an hour later and seesawed for an hour. The obstetrician, who had been in the room for about 15 minutes during the two hours, delivered Carli with the help of forceps arid a vacuum extractor.

But the newborn had sustained severe brain injury. On March 31, 2000, a Gaston County jury awarded the 3-year-old, who couldn't sit, roll, crawl or talk, a whopping $10.75 million.

The Snell verdict remains one of North Carolina's largest medical malpractice settlements and is a reminder of what's at stake in one of the two medical specialties with the highest risks nationwide - obstetrics and neurosurgery.

"When obstetricians and neurosurgeons make a mistake, the outcome is catastrophic," says John Alan Jones, a Raleigh plantiffs' attorney.

For physicians practicing in the fields, the risk translates into the highest medical malpractice insurance rates in the industry. While a cardiac surgeon pays an average of $27,000 in medical malpractice premiums per year, an obstetrician pays an average of $42,000. Some pay as much as $65,000.

* The average medical malpractice payout to victims was $43,000 in 2000, an analysis by the New York-based Center for Justice & Democracy found. That was up about 9 percent from the average payout a decade earlier.

* Less than 15 percent of physicians in the United States account for all the medical malpractice claims.

For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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