Medical Errors

Research has confirmed that 440,000 people die every year because of preventable medical errors. That is equivalent to almost the entire population of Atlanta, Georgia, dying from a medical error each year. Preventable medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States and cost our country tens of billions of dollars a year.

Despite this serious epidemic, corporate front groups are working hard in the U.S. Congress and state legislatures throughout the country to limit accountability and access to the civil justice system when patients are harmed or killed by medical negligence.

The civil justice system gives families of patients who have died or have been injured by medical negligence an avenue to seek accountability. It also provides an incentive to health care providers to improve patient care. Removing that accountability and incentive leaves people at risk for more injuries from negligent care and does nothing but help the insurance industry's bottom line.

The Facts:

  • 440,000 patients die every year from preventable medical errors.  [Journal of Patient Safety]
  • Preventable medical errors cost our country tens of billions of dollars a year.  [Institute of Medicine
  • One in three patients who are admitted to the hospital will experience a medical error.  [Health Affairs]
  • Studies of wrong site, wrong surgery, wrong patient procedures show that “never events” are happening at an alarming rate of up to 40 times per week in U.S. hospitals.  [Archives of Surgery]
  • In 2014, the total spent defending claims and compensating victims of medical negligence accounted for just 0.2 percent of health care costs.
  • Medical negligence cases represent approximately 0.2 percent of the overall civil caseload in state courts. [National Center for State Courts]
  • Researchers at Harvard University found that 97 percent of cases were meritorious, concluding, “Portraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown.”  [New England Journal of Medicine]

Federal Legislation:

Congress is pushing legislation that will make lawsuits brought by injured patients, nursing home residents, and their families nearly impossible to pursue. The so-called "Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017" [H.R. 1215] will rig the system against patients and tip the scales in favor of the health care and insurance industries. 

Despite its name, this bill does nothing to promote access to safe, affordable health care.  Instead, it would undermine the right of states to decide how to best protect their citizens through patient safety liability laws, and close the courthouse doors to Americans who have been injured or killed by the actions of medical professionals. 

H.R. 1215 would force states to apply federal caps on non-economic damages - even if that state has determined that such restrictions violate their constitutions; imposes a prohibitively short federal statute of limitations for most claims; and grants blanket immunity to health care providers who prescribe a drug or device that was at any point approved by the FDA - even if that drug or device has since been proven to be dangerous.