For claims with only emotional injuries, 51% took six months or more to resolve, 35% lasted at least one year, and 7% weren't resolved for at least three years. Meanwhile, for cases involving a temporary physical injury, 49% took at least one year to resolve, and 10% lasted three years or more.
The time of adjudication may be more distressing for doctors than even the potential damages. "Lengthier time to resolution affects physicians through added stress, work, and reputation damage as well as loss of time dealing with the claim instead of practicing medicine," Seabury and other co-authors write.
But there's more to it: if medical errors were truly involved, and yet it takes so long to resolve these cases, physicians may not really learn from any possible errors. They would delay implementing safety and quality measures to prevent similar adverse events, Seabury says. As for the financial issues, "the time it takes may be more stressful than the actual finances," Seabury adds.
There has been widespread recognition among political leaders that malpractice reform needs to be addressed, with a range of calls for tort reform, such as restricting punitive damage awards.
Seabury says the RAND study shows that the effort to address meritless, time-consuming claims needs to be among the top priorities. "There is a movement that recognizes inefficiencies in the system, that it does take a long time to address and imposes more costs on the healthcare system," he adds. Physicians aren't the only ones who suffer in delayed cases. As the researchers note in the report, patients and their families "faced with a lengthy malpractice process also suffer."