Philip Peters Jr., of the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law has been conducting research into medical malpractice cases and his findings suggest that juries in medical malpractice cases tend to side with physicians rather than injured patients. The law professor studied malpractice cases in New Jersey and databases of information as well as statistics about medical malpractice litigation.
The findings of the research are unsettling: according to Peters, juries in medical malpractice cases favor physicians, possibly unfairly. In fact, Peters asserts that juries are more likely to defer to a physician’s opinion – more likely to defer than a physician’s peers.
According to Peters’ research, most medical malpractice cases end in defense verdicts. According to his research, the medical malpractice claims that go to trial tend to be weaker, since stronger cases are often settled out of court. Peters’ findings suggest that 27-30% of malpractice suits end in a verdict that favors the plaintiff. Of all tort litigation, this is the lowest success rate.
Peters’ data is especially important now that Congress is deliberating legislation that would assemble specialized courts for medical malpractice claims. According to Peters’ findings, doctors will not necessarily be treated more favorably in a court of their peers – it appears that non-peers offer the greatest possibility of a verdict that favors physicians.
Peters examined medical malpractice information from Florida, North Carolina, and Michigan as well as New Jersey, so Florida attorneys and plaintiffs may also want to consider these findings. Peters’ findings suggest that the greater the evidence of negligence, the more possibility there is that the jury will find a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. However, even in cases where independent experts believed that there was strong evidence of doctor negligence causing personal injury or wrongful death, juries only returned plaintiffs’ verdicts in half of the cases. In cases where an expert assessed the evidence as weak, only 10-20% of juries brought back plaintiffs’ verdicts.
Peters’ study suggests that jurors in medical malpractice suits may be unwilling to find against a doctor in cases where evidence conflicts or is unclear. The relatively high social status of physicians may also contribute to their success in the courtroom, Peters suggests, especially since health care workers may be able to afford excellent attorneys and expert witnesses.
Peters’ findings do not label jurors as incompetent. In cases where there is clear evidence that negligence leads to personal injury or death, jurors do return plaintiffs’ verdicts. One conclusion that readers may draw from Peters’ research is that an excellent Florida attorney is a must in medical malpractice suits – a good Florida lawyer can bring forward strong evidence and solid arguments that can decrease the small natural advantage that physicians seem to enjoy with jurors.