I am frequently asked about the cost of medical negligence claims. The questions usually revolve around why so many people are suing doctors (they aren’t) and why these same people are driving up the cost of health insurance (they aren’t, either). Occasionally, someone will ask me why it is so hard to get an attorney to take their medical negligence claim. Yes, it is shockingly true, attorneys don’t want to take most medical negligence cases. A prominent Seattle firm notes that it represents about 1 in 50 of the potential clients that walk through its door. Why is that?
Well, one reason is the cost of litigation. While a run-of-the-mill auto accident case may cost between $5,000 and $10,000 to litigate, medical negligence costs may run in the hundreds of thousands. Take a look at the recent data from the Washington insurance commissioner. Not many people have the ability to spend that much money while facing high odds of losing at trial.
Another reason is that we, as a society (of which even I am a member), hold doctors in high regard. They can’t make mistakes, right? But they’re so smart! They went to all that medical school, and… so on and so forth. So it’s easy for a jury to come in and say, with hindsight bias, that just because the doctor failed to tell his patient that she had fungus in her blood that he thought was an anomaly, the doctor shouldn’t be held liable. He acted reasonable under the circumstances. Or if all else fails, blame it on God, and you can’t sue God, can you?
And finally, the elephant in the room is… we’re all just going to die anyway. Not that a juror would say that during deliberations; instead, they broach the sentiment by pointing at that the reason a person ends up in the hospital is probably because they’re pretty sick to begin with.
I’ll just leave it at that…