North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers looked at the 5,401 med-mal cases filed in North Carolina from 1998 through 2006 and compiled a few statistics. The median jury award in medical malpractice cases was $301,300. The largest medical malpractice award was $8.1 million.
Looking at personal injury cases in North Carolina generally, Jury Verdict Research estimates the median award in North Carolina is $10,000. Personal injury plaintiff receive damages in 61% of cases that are tried (the national average is 53%).
The average jury verdict in medical malpractice cases in North Carolina is relatively low. I do not have the national median for medical malpractice cases in front of me but the average – as opposed to the median which makes a difference – is over $1 million. The national median for personal injury cases generally is $38,179 which means that North Carolina and the nationwide plaintiff recovery probability, the number of plaintiff verdicts to total verdicts, is 53 percent.
The median personal injury award in North Carolina is low, but a part of that is because of antiquated jurisdictional limits in North Carolina. Civil jurisdiction for District Court, which does involve a judge instead of a jury – is proper for cases involving amounts in controversy of $10,000 or less. Many states have jurisdictional amounts that are five times North Carolina’s $10,000 maximum. This leads to more jury trials in small cases, thereby decreasing the overall average.
Regarding North Carolina malpractice cases, I think, John Edwards’ record notwithstanding, it has been a tough history for medical malpractice lawyers and their clients in North Carolina. One old study I saw found that North Carolina medical malpractice plaintiffs win 11% of the cases that went to trial.
Another study I read looked at eighteen jury verdicts from North Carolina. In each case, the medical malpractice insurance company obtained expert evaluations on the question of liability. The study divided the reviews into three categories: (1) probable liability, (2) uncertain liability (when experts disagreed), and (3) unlikely liability. The study found that plaintiffs won 10% of the trials in which the doctor’s care had been considered good, 17% of the cases where the experts were uncertain, and 50% of the trials where the experts thought there was liability.
I wonder about the experience/quality of the medical malpractice lawyers who lost the cases where there appeared to be liability because quality malpractice lawyers can make a huge difference not just at trial but in discovery. But the take-home message is clear: medical malpractice cases are tough anywhere, but particularly in North Carolina.