Thursday, January 12, 2006

Neil Vidmar

[RESEARCH] Neil Vidmar, a social psychologist who teaches at Duke Law School, is one of the leading researchers on the jury. I got to hear him speak at last week's AALS meeting as part of a panel on "The Civil Jury in the Shadow of Tort Reform."

Vidmar described a

report to the Illinois State Bar Association of a study examining the incidence, frequency, size of verdicts and other aspects of the medical malpractice system in Illinois. The study looked at statewide data where available, concentrating on Cook and DuPage counties, and Madison and St. Clair counties. The study concludes that the Illinois tort system does not appear to be the cause of the undisputed fact that doctors' liability insurance premiums showed dramatic rises.
Medical Malpractice and the Tort System in Illinois explains his methodology and his findings.

He focused on the Chicago-area counties (Cook and DuPage), with about half the state's population and two-thirds of its doctors. In the two small counties that had been branded as "judicial hellholes," he found nothing to justify that reputation -- for instance, only 11 jury verdicts favoring plaintiffs in a 14-year period, and no decline in doctors (despite claims in the press).

Chapter 2 of the report gives an interesting overview of the tort system, aimed at laypeople but helpful for anyone thinking about these issues. Here's a fact that grabbed me:
Research on medical malpractice trials across the country indicates that when the case goes to trial the juries decide in favor of the plaintiff only between 20 to 30 percent of the time. * * *
These statistics surprise many people. Part of the problem is that newspapers tend to report only cases with prevailing plaintiffs being awarded large sums of money while ignoring cases with smaller sums or cases in which defendants prevail.
p. 14.

Another study Vidmar discussed at the meeting looked at data from Florida, where insurance companies are required to report all settlements, so that Vidmar and his associates were able to look not just at the cases that went to trial but even the "cases" that were never filed.

For a look at Vidmar's scholarship on these and other trial issues, see his bibliography.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I noted with interest the study presented by Professor Vidmar purporting to establish that undisputed liability insurance premium increases for physicians are unrelated to the Illinois tort system. It’s my view that the law could benefit from more empirical analysis. As I skimmed Chapter Two however, I was intrigued to find a very selective extraction of the studies evaluating the application of tort law to medical malpractice. For example, the comprehensive study which Vidmar referred to by Studdert et al. concluded that the empirical data on the tort system as applied to medical malpractice was a “searing indictment” of its efficacy in achieving the tort goals of compensating the injured, deterring negligent care and exacting corrective justice.( Studdert et al., Medical Malpractice, 350 N ENGL. J. MED.283, 285 (2004)). The Studdert study also noted the high overhead of the tort system. (60% of every dollar available to compensate injured patients at trial goes to overhead (like attorney’s fees, trial costs, and expert witnesses) leaving less than 40 cents on the dollar for the injured). These are only two of the many relevant findings left out of Vidmar’s overview. In the interest of full disclosure Vidmar did admit he was hired by the Illinois Bar Association to perform this study. Maybe he knew they wouldn’t want to be reminded of these facts. Isn’t it disingenuous to ignore the profound inadequacies of the tort system in achieving its goals and say “Gee, it’s not lawsuits causing this insurance crisis” when the underlying system they seek to preserve is so dysfunctional?