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Study Explores Payouts in Cardiac Malpractice Claims

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medical malpractice lawsuitsA recent review of U.S. cardiac malpractice litigation slated to be published in the American Journal of Cardiology shows that only a small fraction of medical malpractice lawsuits related to interventional cardiology end with judgments in favor of the claimants. Furthermore, the study revealed that cardiac malpractice payouts were proportional to injury severity.

Researchers evaluated nearly 1,500 cardiac malpractice claims processed between 1985 and 2009 from the Physician Insurers Association of American (PIAA) registry. While the findings did not take into account lawsuits that resolved in pretrial settlements, the results showed that a minority of plaintiffs who pursue legal action actually recover financial compensation for incidents involving cardiac negligence.

Cardiac medical malpractice lawsuits favor the defendants in most cases

The overriding consensus in the review was that most claims do not end in payment. According to the data collected from the PIAA registry, only 22 percent of the 1,361 resolved claims resulted in payments to the plaintiff, with the average sum totaling $230,987. Among allegations raised in the medical malpractice lawsuits were errors in diagnosis, delay in performance, surgical foreign body left behind, failure to perform an indicated procedure, failure or delay in making a referral, and improper performance.

Of all the alleged mistakes, “no medical misadventure” — which encompasses errors or omissions of diagnosis, treatment, procedure performance, supervision, and timeliness that results in injury to patients – had the smallest percentage in payouts at just 7 percent, while failure to perform an indicated procedure had the highest rate of paid claims at 41 percent.

The amount awarded in the malpractice payments had a direct correlation with the seriousness of the alleged injury. For example, though grave injury accounted for less than 3 percent of the lawsuits, 43 percent of those claims were paid, with an average sum of $555,625. Claims that cited wrongful death accounted for 41 percent of the litigation, with almost 30 percent ending in payouts averaging $268,259. On the other hand, claims involving minor injuries rarely ended well for the plaintiff, with only 15 percent recovering damages averaging $53,094.

Better communication may be the key to fewer cardiac malpractice claims

In response to the review, Ian C. Gilchrist, MD, of Hershey Medical Center said, “The paper suggests that malpractice suits in the cardiovascular field are probably significantly less of a problem than the rumor on the street. It also suggests that claims are usually related to an adverse event or complication and don’t materialize out of nowhere.” Dr. Gilchrist further pointed out that communication is the key to prevention in the field of medicine. “If the patient understands the risks and [then a problem] occurs then it is a known risk and probably defendable. On the other hand, if the [claimant] was not informed of a risk, then the claim of lack of consent can be made and legal action may proceed,” he said, adding that unfounded medical malpractice claims for minor injuries are uncommon.

Dr. Ajay J. Kirtane of Columbia University Medical Center concurred, stating “What we tell trainees is that, if you practice in the United States, litigation is something you have to be educated about. But in the end, if you do your best to try to take care of the patient and communicate what you’re doing to the patient and their family, that’s the best way to proceed … There’s no substitution for face time.”