A frivolous lawsuit is defined as a lawsuit that asserts a legal claim, despite the fact that the claim has little to no legal merit. Frivolous lawsuits can have a negative financial, personal, and professional impact on those who are involved. However, the majority of frivolous lawsuits are not filed. Those that are filed are typically dismissed by the court before the case can proceed to trial.
Frivolous Medical Cases
Frivolous medical negligence cases are a topic of hot debate in American society. Many doctors allege that frivolous medical negligence cases occur more frequently than they should. Doctors believe that a significant consequence of these repetitive frivolous medical negligence cases is to drive up medical malpractice insurance premiums.
Medical Negligence Debates
It is also a common belief in the medical community that physicians, especially those working under time-sensitive conditions in hospital emergency rooms, are held accountable for unrealistic professional expectations by their patients. Doctors argue that they make the best possible choices under the pressure of medical time restraints. Furthermore, medical professionals argue that many negative outcomes may reflect the patient’s lack of accountability for personal health. In other words, a patient who smokes cigarettes and eats cheeseburgers every day is likely to suffer from a heart attack, regardless of the medical provider’s efforts.
Frivolous Medical Negligence Statistics
Contrary to the belief of many practicing physicians, no evidence has been provided to support the theory that frivolous medical negligence cases are commonly awarded compensation. As a result, frivolous medical negligence cases are not the leading factor that may be causing medical malpractice insurance premiums to increase. While frivolous medical negligence cases certainly exist, the overwhelming result is for the case file to get thrown out before it ever reaches trial.
Massachusetts Medical Society Malpractice Study
In 2006, the Massachusetts Medical Society conducted a study involving a randomly-selected sample of 1,452 closed medical malpractice claims. These medical malpractice cases spanned five liability insurers. The goal of the Massachusetts Medical Society study was to determine if a medical injury had occurred at all within each of the 1,452 cases, and whether or not that injury was the result of a medical practitioner’s error.
The Massachusetts Medical Society’s conclusion was that frivolous medical malpractice and negligence claims were not uncommon. However, it was extremely rare for any of these frivolous medical cases to ever reach trial or to receive any form of compensation. Nonpayment for claims involving frivolous complaints without proof of medical error occurred more frequently than payment for claims involving justifiable and proven medical error, resulting in harm. In other words, frivolous medical negligence cases were more likely to get thrown out of court than compensation was for true victims of medical malpractice.
When medical negligence claims were compensated for, according to the Massachusetts Medical Society’s 2006 study, 54 cents out of every dollar recovered went toward administrative expenses. This included court fees, expert witness expenses, and legal consultation fees. Medical negligence claims with proven medical errors covered roughly 78% of the total administrative expenses. Frivolous medical negligence case compensation accounted for roughly 13% of total administrative expenses. It is believed that inflation, rising court fees, and other administrative expenses, in addition to the improved identification of medical error, are the root causes for the increase in medical malpractice insurance premiums. Frivolous medical negligence claims do not typically result in compensation for the plaintiff.
How to Identify a Frivolous Medical Case
To avoid filing a frivolous medical negligence case, the following questions may be helpful in identifying a frivolous case prior to taking further action:
- Is there proof of medical injury in the proposed medical negligence case?
- Is there proof of medical error in the proposed medical negligence case?
- Is there evidence that indicates the medical injury was a direct result of the medical error within the medical case?
- When in doubt, seek multiple medical and legal opinions. The medical profession consists of many opposing opinions. Your health is too important not to seek several opinions, especially if a major surgery or course of medical treatment is suggested. In addition, most law firms will provide a free initial consultation to help determine if you or a loved one has become the victim of a medical negligence case.
Danzon, Patricia. “Medical Malpractice: Theory, Evidence, and Public Policy.” Harvard University Press, Library of Congress. Washington, DC: 1985.
Studdert, David, Atul Gawande, et al. “Claims, Errors, and Compensation Payments in Medical Malpractice Litigation.” New England Journal of Medicine. Boston, Harvard School of Public Health: 2006. <http://symptomchecker.isabelhealthcare.com/pdf/Claims_Errors_and_Compensation_Payments.pdf>.