Oklahoma ranks first nationwide in the number of medical negligence lawsuits per capita, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources data.
A team from Weiss & Paarz – a law firm that handles medical malpractice cases in New Jersey and Pennsylvania – reviewed 30 years of claims in every state and found a total of 1.41 million cases were filed involving various types of medical malpractice claims, an average of about 47,000 cases a year.
In 2019, the number of medical malpractice lawsuits filed jumped to 59,813.
The analysis showed Oklahoma topped the list of lawsuits filed per capita with one for every 3,573 residents.
The Journal of the American Medical Association reports approximately 2% of patients suffering from medical negligence file claims for compensation.
“Everything you hear about frivolous cases being filed is bogus,” Oklahoma attorney Rick Bisher of Ryan Bisher Ryan and Simons said.
“Short of product liability, malpractice is the most difficult and costly type of case,” Bisher said. “It has to be viable to prosecute the case.”
Expenses to litigate a single medical malpractice case conservatively total between $50,000 and $100,000, he said.
An attorney will deny a case that is without merit because there is no chance of recouping the cost of prosecuting it, Bisher said.
Even a valid case will be turned down if it seems questionable the amount awarded will cover the costs.
“There’s something wrong with the system because the person is denied justice,” Bisher said.
The biggest cost to litigate medical malpractice is for the expert who reviews the case, consults with the attorney and testifies, Bisher said. Often an expert must be flown in from out of state because so many Oklahoma doctors are insured by the same company and are reluctant to testify, he said.
Bisher said doctors traditionally have been put on a pedestal, which make prosecuting them more difficult. Jurors may accept the argument that the procedure was complicated, and the doctor did his best.
Compensation awarded over the past 30 years across the country totaled $151.7 billion, the analysis showed. The total in Oklahoma cases was more than $1.4 billion.
The national average medical malpractice award between 1990 and 2020 was $101,716. In Oklahoma it was $47,227.
However in 2019, the average award dropped to $75,380 nationally, but increased in Oklahoma to $61,543.
The worst cases of preventable medical mistakes significantly affect patients’ health and their ability to earn income, or even cause death.
STAT reports death by medical error or accident is the nation’s leading cause of accidental death, exceeding all other causes of accidental death combined. Medical error and accidents kill approximately as many people each month in the U.S. as COVID-19 did before vaccines became available, the news source reports.