So far in 2023, there have been multiple jury awards of over $25 million
Obstetricians continue to top the list of specialties most likely to see a lawsuit
Several states have changed their malpractice laws
Although we’ve only recently crossed the halfway point, 2023 has already seen some headline-grabbing malpractice cases and some changes to malpractice law. Malpractice has been in the news this year, from record-breaking jury awards and serious criminal allegations to changes in how malpractice is filed or compensated in some states. Read on to catch up on it with our 2023 highlights and data roundup.
High-award cases make headlines
In May, a Pennsylvania jury awarded the family of a boy born with severe brain injuries following a delayed C-section $183 million in their suit against the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. The case marked the largest award to a single plaintiff in state history. Other high-dollar awards so far this year include:
$43.5 million to former NFL player Chris Maragos who sued orthopedic surgeon James Bradley, MD, and Rothman Orthopaedics after surgery following a torn PCL led to further complications.
$29,715,077 to an Iowa couple who filed against Sun Valley-based Wood River Medical Center and obstetrician Ross Donald, MD after their son developed brain damage due to birth injuries. This award was the largest in Iowa history.
$25 million to a Philadelphia, PA man who filed against Temple University Hospital after a leg injury led to a below-the-knee amputation.
$34 million to a Baltimore, MD family who filed against the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center after their son developed brain damage following an emergency C-section at 32 weeks.
$31 million to a Michigan family who filed against MyMichigan Medical Center-Midland after their daughter developed brain damage following a delayed C-section.
$19 million to a Minnesota family who filed against Essentia Health for neglect after their newborn developed brain damage.
Obstetricians continue to rank as one of the most sued specialties
It’s common for the numbers from multiple sources, including healthcare professional surveys and insurance industry data, to show that obstetricians have the unwanted distinction of being the specialty most likely to see malpractice suits filed against them. The American Medical Association reported on this trend by looking at data from 2016 to 2022, and while it’s too early to have exact percentages for 2023, even a glance at the highlighted high-award cases tells the same story; all but two center on harm alleged to have occurred during labor and delivery. Additional malpractices cases involving obstetricians that made the news this year include:
A suit brought by the family of a California woman who died during an emergency C-section at Centinela Hospital.
A suit was brought against West Boca Medical Center in Florida by a woman who suffered blood loss and organ damage following an induced delivery.
Missed and misdiagnoses continue to top the list of the most common reasons for malpractice suits
Despite the attention-grabbing headlines of high-award cases or serious criminal trials, a large percentage of cases this year have been centered on missed or misdiagnoses. This is in line with the pattern of other years and the data that’s been collected.
David L. Feldman, MD, MBA, CPE, FAAPL, FACS, who serves as the senior vice president and chief medical officer of Healthcare Risk Advisors (a New York City–based group offering professional liability insurance to physicians) and chief medical officer of The Doctors Company, the nation’s largest physician-owned medical malpractice insurer, says there is good reason for this.
“You look at diagnostic errors, and this is the thing that gets people’s attention,” Dr. Feldman says. “Diagnostic error claims can be very expensive because they often happen in younger folks who have an income, have dependents, have a family that relies on them.”
Dr. Feldman says that fixing the problem of reducing missed and misdiagnoses is complex.
“It’s a little trickier [than something like a surgical error] because we’re trying to get into people’s heads, right?” Dr. Feldman says. ‘We’re trying to figure out, ‘why?’ Why did they think of something or not think of something?”
However, he says it’s an area where technology such as AI might be helpful for physicians and patient safety.
“Having a machine that sits over there, with electronic medical record and all the other inputs, and it’s able to look at what’s written in the notes or typed in the notes, at some of the lab tests that have come back, at the patient’s history, and maybe some X-rays.” Dr. Feldman explains. “Based on that using that, artificial intelligence, it would spit out a list of what the diagnosis could be to make sure you haven’t forgotten about anything. They call that decision support.”
Serious crimes brought to light
Of course, some trials this year weren’t about missed diagnoses, surgical errors, or even harm during childbirth; they were about serious, repeated, intentional crimes. These cases are still malpractice, but they typically involve patterns of behavior, multiple parties claiming harm, and criminal charges. Some high-profile criminal malpractice cases from 2023 include:
A suit brought by 83 women against Indiana OB/GYN William David Moore, MD, alleging multiple sexual assaults occurring over Moore’s 30 years in practice.
Charges were brought against New York urologist Darius Paduch, MD, for multiple counts of sexual assault and harassment.
Charges against New Jersey urgent care doctor Gurvindra Johal, MD, for multiple counts of inappropriate sexual conduct.
Changes were made to malpractice laws around the country
New malpractice regulations were enacted in California, Pennsylvania, and Iowa in 2023. In Iowa, a cap on non-economic damages was set at $1 million for hospitals and $2 million for hospitals. In Pennsylvania, a regulation stating that physicians and hospitals could only be sued in the county where the medical treatment occurred was lifted. Under the new regulation, Pennsylvania physicians and hospitals can be sued in any county where they do business or “have substantial contacts.” Finally, California's cap on damages for wrongful death was raised from $250,000 to $500,000.
Additional states are in the process of changing their malpractice laws or are looking into changing their laws. Utah recently rolled back the statute of limitation laws for cases of alleged malpractice involving sexual assault, and award caps have been a point of debate in Wisconsin, Nevada, New Mexico, and New York. Additionally, in Arkansas, one of several bills included legislation allowing physicians to be sued for malpractice for any gender-affirming care provided to any minor for up to fifteen years after that minor turns 18, making it nearly impossible for those physicians to get malpractice coverage in the state.