Physicians bear a tremendous financial burden when faced with medical malpractice suits. Payment for medical representation alone far exceeds the cost of other legal specialties. For instance, a Detroit News article notes that the mean hourly rate for Michigan-based plaintiff malpractice attorneys is $621, with the 95th percentile paying an hourly rate of $1,500. On the flip side, the mean hourly fee for retaining medical malpractice defense attorneys is $275.
The article mentions Greg Naman, MD, a physician and the owner of Epic Primary Care, who recently paid a whopping $810,000 in lawyers’ fees, not to mention a payment of $3.1 million to the plaintiff. Although Dr. Naman negotiated a lower payment with his counsel, he argued that he would have had no choice but to close some of his Epic Primary Care locations had he been required to pay the full $810,000, leaving many of his patients without care.
Under Michigan state trial laws, Dr. Naman had to pay the prosecution’s lawyer fees as well. Had he agreed to a mediator-proposed settlement or received a 10% or greater favorable trial verdict, Dr. Naman would have been spared that additional expense.
According to Program Director and Chief of the Section of Vascular Surgery at William Beaumont Hospital, Dr. O. William Brown, MD, JD, physicians should not avoid settlements, which many do to circumvent a misconception that settling equates to admitted fault. Dr. Brown encourages physicians to bear in mind that settling equates to declaring that one does not desire to go through with a potentially long, grueling trial process.
A JAMA Internal Medicine article notes that approximately 7% of malpractice suits go to trial, with defendants triumphing nearly 88% of the time. Plaintiff-won trials are usually awarded around $350,000. That said, 8% of total claims awarded from 2009 to 2014 surpassed $1 million. Dr. Brown also urges physicians to remember that, even if a judge rules in favor of the defendant, going to trial means, along with attorney fees, additional time away from the office and therefore less revenue.
While it is impossible to completely avoid the possibility of future malpractice suits, physicians would be best suited to adopt risk-reducing strategies, such as prioritizing patient safety and practicing thorough documentation.