Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Runaway Jury Verdicts: Not In Stark County

For the last five years, insurance companies that insure physicians and hospitals have spent millions lobbying for--and receiving--medical malpractice legal "reforms." The insurance companies and medical associations claimed that "runaway jury awards" were the root cause of increased malpractice premiums in early 2000-2002, and therefore juries needed to be reigned in by "capping" medical malpractice lawsuits. The industry got its wish in 2004 when The Ohio Legislature passed laws which, among other things, limit malpractice victims' recovery for pain and suffering (like losing a limb or being in a coma or wheelchair) to $250,000. The result? The legislature TRADED YOUR RIGHT to be compensated for a legitimate medical error to an arbitrary, one size fits all "cap" so that insurance companies can keep malpractice premiums down, for the collective good of us all(sounds alot like communism if you think about it, doesn't it?).

The problem, however, was not runaway jury verdicts. Rather, insurance companies spent millions spent on newspaper, TV, and radio ads claiming that doctors were leaving Ohio(or were going to leave soon) because of high malpractice premiums-- and blamed it ALL on lawsuits. In fact, Ohio was one of 23 states deemed to be "in crisis" by the American Medical Association(this of course raised the question of just where all these doctors were going if over half of our states were in "crisis").

Two things were obvious to we who pursue malpractice cases. First, the doctors were being unfairly gouged by their insurance companies. Why? Malpractice insurers were losing their shirts due to stock market losses, and jacked up premiums on doctors sometimes well over 100% to make up for the shortfall. Doctors had every right to complain about this economic highjacking.

Second, we were asking over and over again: where's all these "runaway" medical malpractice verdicts we keep hearing about? We knew for years that juries were very conservative in Ohio and particularly in Stark County when it came to medical malpractice cases. So, our local trial lawyers association (now known as The Stark County Academy For Justice) commissioned a study spanning over 10 years and covering every medical malpractice case tried to a jury in Stark County since 1993. There were 84 medical malpractice jury trials over an 11 year period. The average verdict? $257,000. You can read the results in the article below.

Of course, these facts didn't stop the Legislature from giving the malpractice insurance companies every "reform" they asked for. Now here's the final insult: St Paul Insurance Company, an insurer which screamed the loudest about skyrocketing malpractice rates, paid its CEO over $32 MILLION in 2002 (that's not a typo). His income wasn't capped or limited!! If the Legislature were going to be FAIR about trying to fix a so called "crisis," why should a patient who lost an arm of leg due to malpractice have his or her rights sacrificed while there's no similar cap on a CEO's $32 million compensation package????

Score another victory for the insurance industry, and yet another blow to Ohioans who are the victims of preventable medical mistakes. Once again, money talks. We'll be re-visiting this topic many more times since we are now starting to see some trends from all these "reforms," and (suprise) malpractice premiums are not coming down as fast as they skyrocketed............

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Runaway Jury Awards: Not in Stark County
In 4 cases in decade, plaintiffs awarded $1 million or more
March 8, 2004
T.C. Brown
Plain Dealer
COLUMBUS – Runaway jury awards haven’t been a problem in Stark County, according to 11 years of court records compiled by local trial attorneys.
The Stark County Trial Lawyers Association compiled the results of every trial between 1993 and 2003, more than 500 cases. It’s the most comprehensive study known in Ohio.
The medical profession won 64 of the 84 medical malpractice trials over that period in Stark County, and juries awarded $1 million or more in only four cases that plaintiffs won.
In nonmedical personal-injury verdicts, juries awarded more than $1 million five times. In 10 cases, juries gave out punitive damages.
The highest punitive award was for $8 million for a train collision that killed three teenagers and injured three others. Most other punitive awards were under $1 million.
Our conclusion was that the results obliterated the argument that runaway juries were wreaking havoc on the civil justice system,” said Brian Wilson, president of the local bar association.
“The reality didn’t match the anecdotes or the myth.”

The Ohio House is considering making it a law for all counties to compile aggregate information on civil jury trials.

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