Why Are Juries Awarding Huge Medical Malpractice Verdicts?

Why Are Juries Awarding Huge Medical Malpractice Verdicts?Medical malpractice is complex and highly challenging to prove. Yet, 2023 was a record year for eye-popping medical malpractice verdicts in the U.S.

According to Medscape, juries awarded $10 million or more in 57 medical malpractice lawsuits in 2023, and over half of those reached $25 million or more. Here are some examples:

  • In December 2023, a Florida jury awarded an unprecedented $261 million verdict—including $50 million in punitive damages—against Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg related to the emergency room treatment of a patient and her family. However, a judge later reduced the verdict by $47.5 million.
  • In November 2023, Westchester Medical Center Health Network was ordered to pay $120 million to a 41-year-old commercial real estate broker and his family after delayed stroke care led to extensive brain damage. As a result, the plaintiff can no longer work, lives in a residential brain center, and needs lifelong, around-the-clock care.
  • In May 2023, a Pennsylvania jury returned a $183 million verdict to the family of a boy who was born with severe brain injuries after a cesarian section was delayed for 45 minutes. The woman had an infection in her uterus, and the delayed C-section caused her baby to be born with cerebral palsy and significant neurodevelopmental issues.

These verdicts are particularly stunning since research has found that most medical malpractice cases are either dismissed or settled outside of court, and those that go to trial are usually decided in the doctor’s favor.

What is behind these extreme verdicts?

Although there is no single factor for the rise in medical malpractice verdicts, there are several theories:

  • COVID-19 disrupted the system. Some experts speculate that plaintiffs’ attorneys may not have resolved high value cases during the pandemic, choosing instead to move forward once the courts returned to normal. Some people emerged from the pandemic angry at health professionals and the healthcare system, which, in their eyes, has morphed from local hospitals and family doctors to nameless, faceless corporations.
  • Damage caps were declared unconstitutional. Some believe rollbacks in tort reform have led to higher medical malpractice verdicts. Although some U.S. states have declared medical malpractice damage caps unconstitutional, Virginia currently has a $2.60 million cap for medical malpractice that increases by $50,000 annually until 2031, when the cap will be $3 million.
  • Third-party financing gave plaintiffs more breathing room. This is an emerging practice in which third parties unrelated to a lawsuit provide funding to plaintiffs in return for a share of the financial award, which can allow parties to hold out for higher awards, potentially prolonging litigation. (We do not endorse pre-settlement funding practices, which we believe can be predatory in nature.)

When juries mete out justice

One theory presented to Medscape by members of a medical insurance lobbyist group is that juries were looking to “punish” defendants: “‘I am concerned that jurors are trying to right social wrongs rather than judging cases on the facts presented to them,’ [said] Mike Stinson, vice president for policy and legal affairs for the Medical Professional Liability Association.”

This particular theory is interesting, because the entire point of taking a case to a jury trial is to seek justice for a client. Punitive damages, which may be a part of that justice, are specifically designed to punish wrongdoing. Thus, if a jury finds that a particular doctor or hospital may have engaged in systemic negligence or poor behavior, a single plaintiff may become a “stand-in” of sorts for anyone else who may have suffered harm in the same way, or by the same people and policies.

How your choice of medical malpractice lawyer can affect a jury – and an outcome

A medical malpractice lawyer’s work at trial begins before the jury even enters the room. Voir dire, the legal term for jury selection, is a critical part of any jury trial. Ideally, we will be able to select jury members who will hear our client’s side of the story with an open (and preferably empathetic) mind, and who are genuinely interested in seeing justice done. Understanding the motivations of modern jury members can help us during the selection process.

It also helps when we present your case. One of the theories presented by the insurance lobbyists about why juries have been returning such large verdicts is that plaintiffs’ lawyers “deploy tactics that can prompt higher verdicts,” a rather vague and sinister-sounding suggestion. Truthfully, we are aiming for significant verdicts for our clients – because our clients suffer substantial harm from the effects of medical negligence. We help people who have been paralyzed, suffered brain trauma, or lost limbs to surgical errors or infections. We represent folks who have lost the ability to start a family, or whose family member died because of negligence. If pointing out the extent of the damage and loss that our clients suffered is a “tactic,” it is one we fully embrace. Remember, Virginia caps the damages that can be recovered in medical malpractice cases regardless of the severity of the injuries involved, which means every single dollar matters.

Without a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney, victims may receive less than they rightfully deserve at trial, accept an unfair settlement, or drop their case entirely. The experienced attorneys at Phelan Petty Injury Lawyers understand the challenges that patients face after they receive an inaccurate diagnosis, obtain an inappropriate treatment, or fall through the cracks when doctors refuse to listen to them. We fight aggressively for victims of medical malpractice and help them obtain the compensation they need and deserve. If you or someone you love has suffered because of a medical professional’s negligence in Virginia, please contact us in Richmond today.