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Ohio Tort Reform Dramatically Affects Medical Malpractice Claims

Birth Injury Lawsuit

medical malpractice claimsAcross the nation, the legal sector is grappling with the notion of tort reform – or, a legislatively-imposed cap on damages in cases involving personal injury, product liability or medical malpractice. In Ohio, 2003 saw the dawn of one of the toughest tort reform acts in the nation at the time – and the results have begun to show.

According to data collected since the 2003 changes to medical malpractice laws, claims have hit an all-time low with just 2,733 filings in 2012. Of these lawsuits, a large percentage of them were dismissed or dropped without the plaintiff receiving any sort of recovery. This figure represents about one-half the number of medical malpractice claims filed in 2005: 5,051.

Statistics behind malpractice claims 

As is the case in most states, tort reform became an issue in Ohio as doctors, physicians and hospitals were unable to keep pace with the staggering malpractice insurance rates imposed upon medical professionals in anticipation of a six- or seven-figure medical malpractice claim.

As a result, Ohio lawmakers imposed the following changes to the law:

  • Non-economic damages (e.g., pain and suffering, mental anguish) are capped at the greater of $250,000 or three times the plaintiffs economic loss up to $350,000 per plaintiff or $500,000 per case;
  • Increased regulation over expert medical witnesses;
  • Proportionate negligence, which permits exposure to liability only to the proportionate extent of physician’s fault 

These changes, among several others, have been in place since 2003 and have apparently worked to keep historically voluminous medical malpractice claims at bay.

Medical malpractice claims in Ohio

Notwithstanding the steady reduction in malpractice claims against Ohio physicians, plaintiffs continue to file causes of action alleging the gamut of issues recognized by medical malpractice laws. Of all recent claims in Ohio, those involving failure to treat or unreasonable delays in treatment gathered the most litigious attention with 780 filed in 2012. Obstetric claims topped off the highest payout that year with each claim averaging approximately $1.1 million in settlement or judgment figures.

According to the Ohio Medical Professional Liability Closed Claim Report, the majority of medical malpractice claims originated in the 14 counties situated in Northeastern Ohio – totaling approximately $111.1 million of the overall $173 million awarded in 2012, or 64 percent. Central Ohio and Southwestern Ohio reported the lowest average per-claim rewards of $224,320 and $219,744, respectively.

Trends in Ohio malpractice litigation

From a physician’s point of view, the 2003 tort reform package has resulted in reduced premiums, increased competition among carriers and fewer lawsuits launched by plaintiffs. According to the Ohio State Medical Association, policyholders saved nearly $54 million in premium payments from 2007-2009. Moreover, the sheer number of lawsuits against physicians fell 41 percent since 2005.

By contrast, injured plaintiffs continue to hold steadfast to their malpractice rights despite the onset of limitations set by the legislature. According to the aforementioned Ohio Medical Professional Liability Closed Claim Report, 2012 saw a total of $177.3 million in medical malpractice claims payable to 576 plaintiffs.