(AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Despite improved healthcare quality and patient safety measures, the cost of medical malpractice continues to climb, with juries awarding over $1 billion in damages for just seven medical liability cases in the last two years. Such is the conclusion of Bermuda-based specialty healthcare insurer Hiscox (LSE:HSX), based on research of its own claims data as well as claims data included with risk submissions.

Many healthcare institutions show only modest medical liability losses, but others are experiencing mid-sized losses that are rising, Hiscox says. It also points to more frequent catastrophic medical liability losses that can be attributed to shortcomings such as inadequate staffing in nursing homes or medical negligence in hospitals. 

Seven states in 2011 announced their largest-ever medical malpractice awards, Hiscox says, and from March 2012 to the present, seven particularly large awards have cost the healthcare industry more than $1 billion in liability losses. “While some cases have been, or will be revised down on appeal, there are clear signs that the overall trend in ‘super losses’ is upwards,” Hiscox says.

 

Rise of the super loss: recent awards 

Date 

State 

Award 

 

March 2010

New York

$60.9m

Negligence at birth

July 2010

California

$670m

Inadequate staffing at assisted-living facilities

July 2010

Florida

$114m

Wrongful death suit against a nursing home

May 2011

Connecticut

$58.6m

Negligence at birth

August 2011

West Virginia

$91.5m

Nursing home negligence

October 2011

Michigan

$144m

Negligence at birth

January 2012

Florida

$168m

Brain damage following surgery

 

Ian Thompson, Senior Vice President, Healthcare, Hiscox, expressed concern that such “super-losses” are increasing in both frequency and severity. He pointed to cases such as an ongoing investigation into over-stenting in Maryland as just the kind of case that can ultimately become a catastrophic medical liability loss. This concern is compounded by increasing evidence that batch losses (in which insurers can place losses together under an aggregating cause) are also becoming larger and more frequent.

According to Hiscox figures, more than half of the largest healthcare claims in history have been paid in the last five years. Hiscox’s research further revealed that losses above $5 million have increased from about 0.25% of all medical liability losses in 2000 to about 0.7% currently, and are projected to reach 1.0% by 2014.

“We are already seeing numerous and very public reports coming out of the Hospital Data Privacy area, and challenging times appear to be ahead,” said Thompson. “With insurers charging premiums for catastrophic events often based on a 1 in every 200- or 300-year loss, it is time that the healthcare insurance sector took a careful look at its catastrophic exposures.”