Medical Malpractice:

Characteristics of Claims Closed in 1984

HRD-87-55: Published: Apr 22, 1987. Publicly Released: May 1, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reported on the characteristics of a sample of medical malpractice claims closed in 1984 to provide nationally representative data relating to the: (1) economic losses of injured patients in relation to awards and settlements; (2) cost to insurers to resolve the claims; (3) length of time insurers took to resolve claims; and (4) similarity of awards and settlements for injuries of similar severity.

GAO found that: (1) the insurers in its sample closed an estimated 73,500 medical malpractice claims involving 103,300 health care providers; (2) the insurers closed about 43 percent of the claims with an indemnity payment; (3) the payments, which varied by type and severity of injury, totalled $2.6 billion and ranged from $1 to about $2.5 million; (4) by type, about 27 percent of the total indemnity payments were for obstetrics errors; (5) by severity, about 52 percent of the indemnity payments were for permanent total disabilities; and (6) the insurers spent $807 million to investigate and defend all claims closed in 1984. GAO also found that: (1) about 30 percent of the patients involved in closed claims suffered minor temporary disabilities, 6 percent experienced emotional injuries, and 15 percent died; (2) 80 percent of the claims resulted from injuries that occurred in hospitals; (3) the length of time between injury occurrence to claim filing ranged from less than 1 month to 219 months; (4) for claims closed with an indemnity payment, the median time from filing to closing was 23 months; (5) the median time for claims closed without payment was 17 months; (6) claims involving severe injuries and those resulting in the largest indemnity payments took the longest to resolve; (7) of the health care providers involved in closed claims, 71 percent were physicians and 21 percent were hospitals; and (8) obstetricians/gynecologists and general surgeons were most often named in claims.

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