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Research: Juries Sympathetic to Doctors in Malpractice Cases

An extensive review of numerous medical malpractice studies and cases reveals that, despite popular belief to the contrary, juries are actually more sympathetic to doctors than to patients.

Philip Peters, a legal professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia’s School of Law, arrived at several conclusions after examining negligence and malpractice cases from 1989 to 2006 in Michigan, New Jersey and North Carolina. He concluded that:

  • Negligence is an important factor in medical malpractice cases. Plaintiffs with flimsy cases rarely win.

  • Juries are able to identify weak cases and side with independent experts in 80 to 90 percent of those cases.

  • Doctors obtained favorable verdicts in half of all cases that independent legal experts expected patients to win.

  • Various factors favor doctors in medical malpractice cases including prevailing social norms against “profiting” from injury, physicians’ social standing, their superior resources, and the jury’s readiness to give them the “benefit of the doubt” in ambiguous cases.

“The data show that defendants and their hired experts are more successful than plaintiffs and their hired experts at persuading juries to reach verdicts that are contrary to the evidence. When the jury is in doubt after hearing conflicting experts, the benefit of that doubt usually goes to the defendant,” Peters said. “This is the opposite of the assumption made by critics of jury decision making.”

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