Determining the exact number of medical malpractice occurrences in Washington each year is difficult, but from the data we have, we can assume the numbers are high. Medical mistakes have become so common in the U.S. that they are one of the top causes of death. According to a study by Johns Hopkins published in 2016, more than 250,000 people in the U.S. die each year due to a medical error.
Johns Hopkins’ findings mean fatal medical mistakes cause approximately 10% of all U.S. deaths and are the third leading cause of death in the country. Given that fatal medical errors are so prevalent, we are left to wonder how many medical mistakes occur each year that cause moderate-to-significant injuries. Calculating these kinds of medical mistakes is challenging, but the numbers could be in the hundreds of thousands or higher.
If you believe that you or a loved one have been the victim of medical malpractice in Washington, contact Seattle medical malpractice attorney Matt Menzer at Menzer Law Firm. Matt has decades of experience successfully handling medical negligence claims in Washington and Hawaii.
What is Medical Malpractice?
Medical malpractice occurs when a medical professional fails to uphold the requisite standard of care, and this failure causes patient personal injuries. This is also known as professional negligence or medical negligence.
There are many forms of medical malpractice, including misdiagnoses, failures to diagnose, surgical errors, medication errors, and failure to obtain informed consent. Malpractice can be the result of one health care professional’s conduct or it can be the fault of a negligent medical facility, such as a hospital that understaffs itself or hires individuals without the proper credentials.
If you believe that you may have a medical malpractice case, talk with our medical malpractice attorneys at Menzer Law Firm.
Medical Malpractice Across the United States
An average of 12,414 medical malpractice cases are reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) each year, Rosenbaum & Associates found through reviewing 2009-2018 data.
These cases don’t include every instance of medical malpractice. Only payouts on claims brought against doctors and hospitals are reported to the NPDB. Many cases of medical malpractice are not caught by the patients, or patients do not feel capable of pursuing a claim. Many other cases are dismissed or denied because of other circumstances despite medical negligence has taken place.
Between 2009 and 2018, reported U.S. medical malpractice cases decreased by 18.5% from 14,017 to 11,429. Over these years, medical malpractice victims received $38.5 billion in settlements and court awards. The amount paid out differed greatly from year to year and from state to state.
New York had the most reports of medical malpractice between 2009 and 2018. California and Florida had the second and third most malpractice reports.
In terms of how much each state paid on medical malpractice claims between 2009 and 2018, Washington paid less than New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Georgia, Maryland, Texas, Ohio, Connecticut, Arizona, Michigan, Virginia, Indiana, and Missouri.
Nebraska, Washington, D.C., Idaho, Montana, Delaware, Alaska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota had the lowest medical malpractice payouts.
Washington Medical Malpractice Claim Statistics
Through the NPDB, you can review the number of reported medical malpractice payouts in each state for each year. This data does not include all medical negligence claims made against health care professionals; It includes only payments.
In 2015, there were 210 medical malpractice payments in Washington. In the following years, there were 175, 175, and 172 medical malpractice payments, respectively.
Though large medical malpractice settlements often make the news, most claims receive much smaller payouts. In 2018:
- 45 payments were for less than $50,000;
- 38 payments were for between $100,000 and $249,000
- 28 payments were for between $250,000 and 499,000
- 16 payments were for $1 million or more
The most common medical professional involved in medical malpractice payments is physicians (MD), according to the NPDB data. There were 102 medical malpractice payments involving MDs in Washington in 2018.
The next most common medical malpractice payor was dentists with 33 payouts the same year, according to the NPDB. There were 11 medical malpractice payouts involving chiropractors and eight payments involving non-physician medical providers (MO).
Statistics regarding medical malpractice claims and payouts can vary from source to source, as you can see by comparing the NPDB’s and the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commission’s (OIC) findings.
For the five-year period ending December 2017, there were 4,898 medical malpractice claims filed against insurance, according to the 2018 Medical Malpractice Annual report by the OIC. Insurers and self-insurers paid $631.9 million on 2,167 claims. (The other claims did not receive payment.)
There were 2,602 lawsuits filed as a result of these insurance claims (53%).Medical malpractice lawsuits resulted in payments by insurance companies 40% of the time with an average $491,659 paid. Claimants who did not file lawsuits received, on average, $102,883 in such insurance payments.
How Were Washington Medical Malpractice Claims Resolved?
Most medical malpractice claims do not go to trial despite claimants filing lawsuits.
The OIC reported 915 court-disposed claims, 525 claims resolved through some form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), and 1,728 claims settled by the parties themselves between 2013 and 2017. Also, 1,730 claims were abandoned by the claimant.
Of the medical malpractice lawsuits, the insurance companies and self-insurers reported only 24 claims were resolved with a verdict for the plaintiff. Twenty-two claims resulted in an indemnity payment averaging $1.4 million.
The OIC also found that medical malpractice claims that went to trial tended to have more than one defendant, and the plaintiff’s compensation in those cases tended to be higher than the average indemnity payment.
Mediation is the most common ADR method. According to the OIC, 476 claims were resolved through mediation, resulting in 399 indemnity payments. The average payout was $539,566.
Arbitration resulted in 15 awards for plaintiffs and 13 decisions in favor of the health care providers. There were 14 indemnity payments averaging $145,704.
Twenty-one claims were resolved through private trials (another ADR method), and only 12 of these private trials result in indemnity payments. The average payout was $577,331.
It’s important to note that Washington does not have damage caps for malpractice suits. There are no statutory limits on how much compensation you can receive for your injuries.
Most Common Types of Medical Malpractice Claims in Washington
According to data from the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner, there were 4,238 medical malpractice claims between 2015 and 2019 that resulted in some type of expense to insurance companies. These costs could be in the form of defense expenses, a payment to the claimant, or both.
Just under half of these claims, 1,744, involved some type of error on the part of a medical professional. Another significant percentage of the total claims in Washington involved a behavioral or legal issue, such as vicarious liability. This legal concept is often used against an organization (like a hospital) to hold it responsible for the acts of an employee or third party when it had the right, ability, or duty to control its actions.
The 4,238 medical malpractice claims during this five year period break down as follows::
- Error/improper performance: 1,744 claims
- Improper performance: 714 claims
- Improper technique: 243 claims
- Improper management: 211 claims
- Patient history, exam, or workup problem: 65 claims
- Surgical or other foreign body retained: 61 claims
- Patient monitoring problem: 47 claims
- The wrong dosage administered: 37 claims
- Wrong medication ordered: 36 claims
- Wrong medication administered: 35 claims
- Wrong body part: 29 claims
- Equipment utilization problem: 29 claims
- Wrong diagnosis or misdiagnosis: 24 claims
- Intubation problem: 23 claims
- Wrong procedure or treatment: 22 claims
- Wrong medication dispensed: 20 claims
- Patient positioning problem: 16 claims
- Behavior/legal: 1,100 claims
- Vicarious liability: 812 claims
- Failure to ensure patient safety: 142 claims
- Lack of informed consent: 29 claims
- Sexual misconduct: 26 claims
- Failure to take appropriate action: 801 claims
- Failure to diagnose: 441 claims
- Failure to treat: 103 claims
- Failure to monitor: 100 claims
- Failure to recognize a complication: 43 claims
- Failure to order appropriate test: 37 claims
- Delay in performance: 243 claims
- Delay in diagnosis: 124 claims
- Delay in treatment: 81 claims
- Delay in performance: 24 claims
- Communication/supervision: 228 claims
- Failure to instruct or communicate: 88 claims
- Communication problem between practitioners: 62 claims
- Improper supervision: 30 claims
- Failure to report on patient condition: 17 claims
- Failure to supervise: 17 claims
- Continuity of care/care management: 62 claims
- Premature discharge from institution: 20 claims
- Unnecessary/contraindicated procedure: 51 claims
- Unnecessary procedure: 26 claims
For doctors/physicians, the most common medical malpractice allegations include:
- Failure to diagnose: 392 claims
- Improper performance: 389 claims
- Improper technique: 160 claims
- Improper management: 142 claims
- Delay in diagnosis: 102 claims
- Failure to instruct/communicate with a patient or family: 65 claims
- Failure to treat: 53 claims
- Surgical or other foreign body retained: 50 claims
- Patient history, exam, or workup problem: 49 claims
- Delay in treatment: 40 claims
- Failure to recognize a complication: 31 claims
- Failure to order appropriate test: 31 claims
- Communication problem between practitioners: 31 claims
- Failure to monitor: 29 claims
- The wrong dosage administered: 24 claims
- Unnecessary procedure: 23 claims
- Wrong body part: 18 claims
For dental specialties, medical malpractice claims most often involved:
- Improper performance: 216 claims
- Improper technique: 19 claims
Other types of providers, such as nurses, physician assistants, and therapists, were most frequently involved in claims for:
- Improper performance: 107 claims
- Failure to ensure patient safety: 64 claims
- Improper technique: 64 claims
- Failure to monitor: 47 claims
- Failure to diagnose: 44 claims
- Failure to treat: 32 claims
- Improper management: 32 claims
- Patient monitoring problem: 27 claims
- Communication problem between practitioners: 24 claims
- Delay in treatment: 19 claims
- Delay in diagnosis: 17 claims
- Wrong medication administered: 16 claims
- Failure to instruct/communicate with patient or family: 16 claims
Claims against organizations, like hospitals and medical practice groups, most often involved:
- Vicarious liability: 775 claims
- Failure to ensure patient safety: 63 claims
- Failure to monitor: 22 claims
- Improper supervision: 21 claims
- Improper management: 20 claims
These statistics tell us that while medical malpractice can take many forms, it most often involves an error or omission of some type. For example, improper performance frequently involves a failure to meet the standard of care for a professional. If a doctor provides substandard treatment, then they may be liable for medical malpractice.
Where Do Most Medical Malpractice Mistakes Happen?
Of these 4,238 medical malpractice claims, over a five-year period in Washington, most involved allegations of medical malpractice at a general or acute care hospital or within a medical group or practice. According to the statistics:
- 1,855 claims were filed against a general or acute care hospital
- 1,4000 claims were filed against a medical group or practice
- 333 claims were filed against a dental group or practice
- 107 claims were filed against a nursing or skilled nursing facility
- 102 claims were filed against a local or state correctional facility
- 49 claims were filed against a chiropractic group or practice
- 43 claims were filed against a podiatric group or practice
- 35 claims were filed against an ambulatory surgical center
- 314 claims were filed against all other healthcare organizations
Most frequently, medical malpractice occurred within an operating room or at a medical office:
- 1,012 claims occurred in an operating room
- 779 claims occurred in an office
- 552 claims occurred in an emergency department
- 535 claims occurred in a patient room
- 248 claims occurred in an outpatient department
- 209 claims occurred in another location, not in an inpatient facility
- 184 claims occurred in a labor or delivery room
- 162 claims occurred in a special procedure room
- 133 claims occurred in a radiology department
- 80 claims occurred in a walk-in clinic
- 53 claims occurred in a laboratory
- 42 claims occurred in a critical care unit
- 34 claims occurred in a rehabilitation center
- 30 claims occurred in a physical therapy department
- 21 claims occurred in a facility support area
- 164 claims occurred in all other locations
Who Commits the Most Medical Malpractice in Washington?
Unsurprisingly, most medical malpractice claims are brought against a doctor. Just under 50% of all claims for this 5 year period involved a physician. Certain types of specialties – like emergency room doctors, obstetricians and gynecologists, and family practice doctors – see a higher number of claims than other specialties.
According to data from the Insurance Commissioner, medical malpractice claims were filed against the following types of providers between 2015 and 2019:
- 2,083 claims against a physician specialty (including surgeons, general practice physicians, radiologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, and more)
- 1,034 claims against an organization
- 790 claims against another type of medical provider (such as nursing, physician assistants, technicians, pharmacy, podiatry, and psychology)
- 331 claims against a dental specialty
These claims can be further broken down based on physician specialties (2,083 claims):
- Emergency medicine: 245 claims
- Obstetrics and gynecology: 239 claims
- General practice/family practice: 228 claims
- General surgery: 223 claims
- Orthopedic surgery: 208 claims
- Radiology: 143 claims
- Anesthesiology: 105 claims
- Internal medicine: 104 claims
- Neurological surgery: 86 claims
- Urological surgery: 56 claims
- Cardiovascular disease specialists: 51 claims
- Gastroenterology: 26 claims
- Hospitalist: 46 claims
- Plastic surgery: 44 claims
- Pediatrics: 42 claims
- Otolaryngology: 41 claims
- Neurology: 19 claims
- All other physician types: 157
When it comes to non-physician providers (790 claims), nurses were most frequently accused of medical malpractice:
- Nursing: 445 claims
- Physician assistant: 85 claims
- Podiatry: 59 claims
- Chiropractic: 47 claims
- Laboratory technician: 29 claims
- Physical therapy: 23 claims
- Emergency medicine; 21 claims
- Pharmacy: 15 claims
- All other types: 66 claims
What Areas of Washington Had the Most Medical Malpractice Claims?
Unsurprisingly, the higher population areas of Washington – such as King County – had a larger number of medical malpractice claims. Based on regions, the claims can be broken down as follows:
- King: 1,298 claims
- Pierce: 504 claims
- Spokane: 472 claims
- Puget Sound Metro: 357 claims
- East Balance: 306 claims
- Yakima Tri-Cities 300 claims
- Snohomish: 299 claims
- Clark: 259 claims
- West Balance: 238 claims
- North Sound: 198 claims
Who Is Most Affected By Medical Malpractice in Washington?
According to the data, more women than men experience medical malpractice in Washington, with 2,400 of the 4,238 claims filed by women. In addition, medical malpractice seems to affect older Washingtonians the most, with the highest number of claims affecting people aged 51 to 60. The age breakdown of the claims is as follows:
- Newborn: 153 claims
- Infant under 1 year: 49 claims
- Age 1 to 10: 72 claims
- Age 11 to 20: 129 claims
- Age 21 to 30: 367 claims
- Age 31 to 40: 585 claims
- Age 41 to 50: 760 claims
- Age 51 to 60: 908 claims
- Age 61 to 70: 694 claims
- Age 71 to 80: 314 claims
- Age 81 to 90: 184 claims
- Over 90: 23 claims
What Types of Injuries Were Most Common?
People who experience medical malpractice may be injured in a number of ways, from a relatively short-term injury, to emotional trauma, to a life-changing permanent disability. In far too many cases, medical malpractice causes death. Survivors of a person killed through medical malpractice may be able to file a wrongful death claim against the medical provider or organization.
Based on information from the Insurance Commissioner, the following types of injuries were alleged in claims filed between 2015 and 2019 in Washington:
- Minor temporary injury: 1,200 claims
- Death: 679 claims
- Major temporary injury: 587 claims
- Significant permanent injury: 402 claims
- Minor permanent injury: 384 claims
- Emotional injury only: 335 claims
- Major permanent injury: 287 claims
- Insignificant injury: 239 claims
- Grave permanent injury: 125 claims
How Are Medical Malpractice Claims Typically Settled?
Of the 4,238 medical malpractice claims that were filed between 2015 and 2019 in Washington, most were either resolved through a settlement (1,483) or abandoned by the claimant (1,422 claims). For the cases that did result in a payment to the claimant, 70.5% of the claims were resolved via a negotiated settlement. 21.1% were resolved through some sort of alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation or arbitration.
Having a skilled Washington medical malpractice attorney to represent you can increase the likelihood that your case will result in a favorable outcome – such as a settlement. An experienced lawyer understands how to put together a strong case that will help you get maximum compensation for your injuries.
Do You Have a Medical Malpractice Case?
If you believe you or a loved one have been the victim of negligence in a health care setting, do not hesitate to contact a seasoned medical malpractice attorney, Matt Menzer. He and his team have decades of experience successfully handling negligent medical care claims. He will review your case, and if it appears a doctor or other health care professional was negligent, then he will guide you through the process of pursuing economic and non-economic damages in a settlement or in a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit.
It’s important to give us a call or contact us as soon as you suspect negligence. The Washington statute of limitations for medical malpractice is generally three years from when the negligence took place. This seems like a long time, but it can take months or years to fully investigate your case and document your damages. We need to get started right away.