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Public Perception of Medical Malpractice Cases Skewed by Media Trends

Most are well versed in the criticisms often faced by Chicago medical malpractice attorneys about their work and its effect on the community. Many attorneys in this area are forced to defend the aid that they provide medical victims from those who have an incomplete understanding of the work itself. A common refrain heard from those complaining about the Illinois medical malpractice system is that victims are receiving too much money from judges and juries. Many believe that this has reached epidemic proportions, causing them to advocate for incredibly damaging changes to the system itself. However, it is important to remember that this opinion is often rooted is misconceptions about the size of the average verdict and the way the figures are reached.

To help shed light on how these inaccurate perceptions of the system continue, the Center for Justice & Democracy published a new paper this week which looks at how the media covers civil justice cases in the 21st century. They also considered the effect that this coverage may have on the overall beliefs about the system. This new effort is actually a follow-up to similar effort conducted by the group ten years prior. The earlier effort found that the majority of news headline mentioned the total amount awarded to a plaintiff, but rarely referred to the actual harm that led to the verdict. On top of that, almost no news stories discussed how in more cases than not, a plaintiff may actually not receive anything and when they do it is much more modest that most believe.

This new follow-up study wanted to determine if anything had changed on this front over the past ten years. In addition, the researchers hoped to account for the widespread “New Media” dynamics-such as Twitter and Facebook-that have become popular in the years since the last study. Blog readers likely know that a growing percentage of individuals are not getting their news from traditional outlets. Instead news aggregators, such as Google, are becoming popular portals through which community members scan headlines while deciding what to read. Therefore, just as before, headlines and the small snippets of information that appear underneath them, are often the most important part of the story. This characteristic influences media outlets to create catchy headlines sufficient to draw a reader in to learn more.

However, this trend has clear consequences on the perception of the civil justice system. In this newest research, the analysts determined that the average total of a verdict reported in the news was about $4.6 million. That figure is almost 200 times more than the average total of all civil justice verdicts nationwide; according to the U.S. Department of Justice that average is actually $24,000. When settlement reporting was compared with actual settlement averages, a large discrepancy was also found. Beyond that, researchers also found that plaintiff wins were reported six times more frequently than defense wins, leading to the assumption that all those who file a lawsuit win. In addition, a surprising majority of news stories focusing on large awards failed to mention that the victim may only receive a fraction of that amount because of a cap on damages.

Every Chicago medical malpractice attorney remains proud of that the fact that the civil justice systems is the main tool available to victims of serious errors to receive compensation for their losses and work to get their lives back together. Unlike the claims made by some misguided advocates, those who file a Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit after the error are not merely seeking a way to make money. Instead, most often these victims are only hoping to use the tools protected by our founders to ensure justice and accountability.

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