Many believe that medical malpractice lawsuits are to blame for skyrocketing health care costs. However, medical malpractice payments in 2011 were at their lowest in over 20 years. This news discredits the claim that these payments are to blame for the skyrocketing cost of health care in America.

The recent report by Public Citizen, Malpractice Payments Sunk to Record Low in 2011, states that data from the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) shows that the number of medical payments and the inflation-adjusted value of such payments were at their lowest levels since 1991 (1991 was the earliest year that this data was recorded).

The report found that in 2011:

  • The number of malpractice payments on behalf of doctors (9,758 payments) was the lowest on record, having fallen for the eighth consecutive year;
  • The inflation-adjusted value of payments made on behalf of doctors ($3.2 billion) was the lowest on record. In actual dollars, payments have fallen for eight straight years and are at their lowest level since 1998;
  • The average size of medical malpractice payments (about $327,000) declined from previous years;
  • Four-fifths of medical malpractice awards compensated for death, catastrophic harm or serious permanent injuries – disproving the claim that medical malpractice litigation is “frivolous”;
  • Medical malpractice payments’ share of the nation’s health care cost was the lowest on record (just 0.12 percent of all national health care costs); and
  • Health care costs rose again amid the decline in medical malpractice litigation – debunking the claim that the litigation is tied to rising health care costs or that patients should expect dividends from reduced litigation;

The vast majority of patients injured by medical malpractice are not being compensated. Although there were hundreds of thousands of injuries (and tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths), which studies attribute annually to medical mistakes, less than 10,000 medical malpractice payments were made on behalf of doctors in 2011.