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Press Release

Study Details Doctors' Concerns


From the Charleston Daily Mail, April 3, 2004, Saturday
Copyright 2004 Charleston Newspapers

A recent survey found that 94 percent of West Virginia doctors have changed the way they practice medicine because of litigation concerns.

The survey by the American Tort Reform Association and the American Medical Association also found that 97 percent of state doctors believe medical malpractice lawsuits drive up the cost of patient care.

"This survey suggest that despite recent reforms, health care lawsuits continue to harm West Virginia's health care system," ATRA President Sherman Joyce said in a written statement. "Physicians report continuing concerns about lawsuit exposure, forcing physicians to limit services, retire early or move to states with more stable liability environment."

The random telephone poll of 100 state doctors was conducted between Dec. 2 and Jan. 16 by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut.

Marvin Masters, president of the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association dismissed the poll as "propaganda."

"It's another self-poll," he said. "They get the answers they want by getting the people they want to talk to respond."

More than half of all medical malpractice cases are settled before they go to trial, according to numbers compiled by the state Insurance Commission. Since 2000, the average settlement has been worth nearly $ 210,000. That's up from the mid-1990s, when the average settlement was worth about $ 160,000.

The insurance commission figures show that the huge jury awards doctors claimed were pushing up their medical malpractice insurance premiums are rare.

In 2002, for instance, only two of the 25 medical malpractice jury verdicts were worth more than $ 1 million. In 18 cases, the jury said that the doctors didn't owe a cent to the plaintiff.

Figures from the insurance commission show that the median jury verdict in a medical malpractice case was far lower than the nationwide median of $ 1 million.

The state's lawsuit numbers don't reflect changes since a law capping non-economic damages at $ 250,000 in most medical malpractice cases was enacted in July. Masters says that law has cut the number of medical malpractice claims filed.

Staff writer Therese Smith Cox contributed to this story.