Doctors usually get a fair shake in malpractice cases, with the quality of care determining the size of a settlement, if there is a settlement at all, according to a Missouri law professor.


“Weak claims fare worst, toss-ups do better, and strong claims fare best,” observes Philip G. Peters Jr., JD, of the University of Missouri-Columbia. “The fit is not perfect, yet it is surprisingly good.”

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He reviewed all of the research on out-of-court settlements between 1989 and 2006. These settlements, which result from negotiations between the attorneys for both sides, affect the vast majority of cases. Only 10% of all medical malpractice lawsuits go to a jury.


Peters found that more than a dozen studies traced a direct correlation between compelling evidence and the likelihood of a payout, according to a report in Regulation (2007;30:30-35).

Between 85% and 90% of strong cases resulted in monetary com-pensation, with the largest amounts going to plaintiffs who received the poorest care. But only 10% to 20% of plaintiffs with weak cases got a dime, and “often it was only a token amount, such as forgiveness of any unpaid doctor bills,” Peters notes.


“These findings show the system works,” he adds. “The civil justice system really is asking the right question: ‘Did the patient get competent care or not?’ ”


“The overall performance of the settlement process should be reassuring to physicians. Quality of care drives settlement outcomes,” Peters concludes. “It will be hard to design an evenhanded adjudicative process that treats them much better.”