Medical Malpractice Payouts by State: A Comparison Guide
By: Cohen, Placitella & Roth @ Oct 15, 2022
Harry M. Roth, Esq.
Whether it’s a simple misdiagnosis or a catastrophic birth injury, medical malpractice can leave you with a burden too heavy to carry on your own. In situations like these, you can potentially pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit to receive compensation for economic and noneconomic damages. If you’re planning to file a malpractice suit, you need to adjust your expectations, depending on where you live or where the injury occurred.
Medical malpractice payouts by the state may differ from national averages for several reasons. Understanding state laws and regional trends can give you a better idea of your anticipated settlement before you file.
Factors That Impact Medical Malpractice Payouts
A medical malpractice claim is can be very difficult to pursue with success. Even when you have gathered all the necessary evidence to prove your case s, other elements will still affect your final payout.
The Most Important Factors That Affect Medical Malpractice Payouts
Your settlement should cover expenses associated with your injury including past and future medical bills, new medical equipment or prescriptions, and lost income and benefits. You may also receive noneconomic damages for such things as physical pain and emotional suffering. To ensure you get proper compensation, your lawyer will negotiate with insurers based on factors including:
- The nature and extent of malpractice
- The impact of your injuries
- Anticipated future treatment and care
- Your age
- Your claim’s supporting evidence
- Expert testimony
Factors that Influence the Strength of a Medical Malpractice Claim
The strength of your evidence and the significance of your injury strongly correlates with the size of a jury verdict or settlement. The stronger a case and the more disabling the injury, the higher the recovery is likely to be. If you suspect medical malpractice, you can strengthen your case by keeping thorough records.
This includes both medical records, such as prescriptions and diagnostic images, and personal records, like journal entries that detail your physical and emotional burden and other nonmonetary losses. Your medical malpractice attorney will help you strengthen your case by identifying and deposing witnesses and consulting with expert witnesses. Experience malpractice attorneys can identify well-credentialed, experienced doctors to serve as medical experts for cases like these.
Experts are necessary to establish the standard of care as well as confirm the validity of the medical negligence and the seriousness of your claim.
How Settlement Amounts Are Determined in Medical Malpractice Cases
Experienced medical malpractice attorneys know that preparing each case for trial is the best way for cases to get settled out of court. A fair settlement, assures the client of certainty of outcome and eliminates the risks of trial faced in even the best of cases. Lawyers and insurers negotiate based upon the strengths of the expert support of the case and defenses the jury verdict exposure each party faces at trial.
The negotiating parties analyze the damages, including economic expenses such as lost earnings, and future economic damages. Both parties will consult with physicians, economists, and actuaries to analyze their settlement positions. If you cannot reach a settlement, your case will proceed to court for trial. If the jury finds the defendant responsible for medical negligence, the jury will decide the amount you receive in damages.
The jury is presented with evidence from expert witnesses regarding the need for and costs of such things as necessary medical treatment, therapies, and equipment as well as the loss of past and future wages. The jury will also hear from the patient and family, friends or other witnesses about the impact the injuries have had on the patient and his or her family. At the close of the evidence, the judge instructs the jury about what factors to consider in arriving at a verdict.
A judge may also intervene in the final amount, especially if there are legal caps in your state.
States with the Highest Medical Malpractice Payouts
Where you live has a great impact on your final award. In fact, your location could be the difference between a million-dollar settlement and a few hundred thousand dollars. Different states have a wide range of settlement averages due to state laws and other factors.
How Medical Malpractice Payouts Differ by State
There are no federal laws regulating medical malpractice payouts, but many states have caps or limits on the amount a plaintiff may receive. For example, Colorado employs an umbrella cap that limits payouts to $1 million. In total, six states cap both economic and non-economic damages, and twenty-four states cap noneconomic damages only. The remaining twenty states have no caps.
In states with no caps, such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the average payout tends to be much higher.
The States with the Highest and Lowest Medical Malpractice Payouts
Yearly statistics from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) show the total amount of damages paid out in each state. While these numbers do not reflect individual cases, they can give you an idea of how the payout differs across the United States. The states with the highest medical malpractice payouts in 2017 include the following:
- New York at $593 million
- Pennsylvania at $340 million
- New Jersey at $271 million
- Illinois at $263 million
- Florida at $251 million
In contrast, these are the states with the lowest payouts:
- Vermont at $1.7 million
- South Dakota at $2.3 million
- North Dakota at $3.1 million
- Wyoming at $3.8 million
- Delaware at $9.2 million
Why Some States Have Higher Medical Malpractice Payouts Than Others
In addition to state laws that limit damages, regional differences contribute to higher medical malpractice payouts in certain states. For example, economic and racial disparities between regions could impact the anticipated lost income. The cost of healthcare also differs between states.
States with the Most Medical Malpractice Payouts
The NPDB reports there have been over 50,000 medical malpractice claims in the last five years. However, these cases are not equally distributed across the country. Some states see over a thousand cases each year, while others total in the teens. This could affect the experience level of your attorney as well as your final settlement.
The States Where Medical Malpractice Suits Are Most Common
In general, the more people there are in a state, the more medical malpractice cases there will be. That’s why the most populated states tend to top the lists in statistics like these. According to data from the NPDB, New York, California, and Florida had the highest number of medical malpractice suits between 2009 and 2018.
North Dakota reported the fewest suits, with only ninety-six cases over the past decade.
Factors That Contribute to the Incidence of Medical Malpractice Suits
One factor that contributes to malpractice claims in certain states is variations in state law and the evidence required to prove a medical malpractice claim. Some states impose a very high burden on proving medical malpractice claims, which can result in fewer successful cases with lower settlement amounts. Likewise, some states impose very short statutes of limitation for medical malpractice cases, which can bar valid claims before they can even be filed.
Physician specialty may also have an impact on the incidence of medical malpractice suits. For instance, obstetricians/gynecologists and surgeons are the specialists most likely to be sued for malpractice. These types of doctors are more frequently involved in higher-risk procedures that lead to personal injury or wrongful death. Solo practitioners are also more likely to face medical malpractice charges and physician discipline.
The States Most Accommodating of Medical Malpractice Suits
States with no legal caps on damages are generally the most accommodating of medical malpractice suits. These states include the following:
- Washington, D.C.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
Average Medical Malpractice Payouts by State
Every medical malpractice case is unique; it’s impossible to predict the final settlement. However, though you shouldn’t file your claim with a dollar amount in mind, averages and precedents can give you an idea of what to expect.
The Average Medical Malpractice Settlement in the United States
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, in 2017 the average medical malpractice settlement was around $330,000. In court cases, juries commonly award closer to $1 million.
Keep in mind that while juries tend to award more in damages than an out-of-court settlement, taking your case to trial is risky. According to Philip Peters in an article for Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, physicians win between 80 and 90 percent of medical malpractice cases. A settlement guarantees a speedy payout.
The Range of Medical Malpractice Settlements in the United States
The range of malpractice settlements depends mostly on the severity of the injury. Your recovery time could be a good indicator of the range you may expect.
- 30 days: $0–$10,000
- Fewer than six months: $10,000–$30,000
- One year: $30,000–$100,000
- Longer than one year: $100,000–$500,000
A malpractice claim that warrants damages exceeding $1 million are called a “catastrophic claim.” These are rare but more common in the gynecology, neurology, pathology, and pediatric fields.
Who Pays the Settlement in Medical Malpractice Suits?
In most cases, insurance companies pay the settlement in medical malpractice suits. Hospitals, clinics, and surgical centers generally require employed physicians to carry medical malpractice insurance in addition to the facility’s policies. However, in some states, doctors who own their practices do not legally require medical malpractice insurance.
Many still choose to get coverage, but those that go without being personally liable for medical malpractice suits. The amount of coverage a doctor or hospital has will not affect your settlement.
What to Do If You’ve Experienced Medical Malpractice
Medical malpractice can leave victims with heavy financial, physical, and emotional burdens. Don’t carry them alone! By filing a medical malpractice case, you may reach a settlement that lifts the burden.