There is a general lack of data kept by courts prior to the 1950s regarding the average awards for medical malpractice and medical error litigation. However, this is not necessarily an indicator that medical malpractice lawsuits were uncommon in the years prior to the 1950s. Prior to this time, the Hippocratic Oath served as the court’s major guideline for determining the cause of action and at-fault fact finding procedures in medical malpractice lawsuits.
The Hippocratic Oath is an ancient humanist oath taken to this day by licensed medical professionals, which sets forth the ethical guidelines and standard of care to which a medical professional is held responsible. In the 1960s and beyond, the United States government enacted specific legislation governing medical malpractice reform.
Anecdotal medical malpractice evidence suggests that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it became possible under American court standard to sue a medical professional for negligence. The negligence described in the anecdotes generally involves a disregard for the patients well being or an egregious error in diagnosis or malpractice.
Medical professionals were expected to be held to a common sense standard of ethics at the court’s discretion, or be found guilty of negligent malpractice. Medical lawsuits at this time were not regulated by the federal government whatsoever.
Since the 1960s, the growth of medical malpractice lawsuits has risen substantially and peaked in the mid 1990s as further medical malpractice legislation became available and data was collected. Dollar amounts began to grow fastest in the 1970s when courts began publishing standards of medical malpractice awards for claimants who felt they were subject to mistreatment or negligence by their treating physicians.
Data for medical malpractice is also collected from the decisions rendered in appellate court. For example, a court award for medical malpractice is not valid as discernible data for damage awards if the award is reviewed, altered or overturned by an appellate court.
Malpractice medical legislation is generally a topic that is handled and regulated at the state level. As the legal and medical environments vary from state to state, the federal legislation on the matter is very loose and does not affect the average award for damages in malpractice medical. States have their own unique rules and regulations with regard to medical ethics and standards of care which are derivatives of the Hippocratic Oath, but not bound to the text therein.