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EXPERTS PREDICT INCREASED NUMBER OF CLAIMS IN TOUGH ECONOMY

Posted by Jonathan A. Barash

Insurers, lawyers, and industry groups have reported a rise in claims since the U.S. economy took a downturn.

Last month, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported an increase in the number of medical malpractice cases filed in Georgia. The report was based, at least in part, on an increase in claims seen by MAG Mutual Insurance Co., Georgia’s largest medical malpractice insurer. However, MAG Mutual’s president and COO, Daryl Grimes, was not ready to conclusively link the increase to current economic conditions until they had seen several years worth of numbers. Nonetheless, the Chronicle’s article also quoted Dr. Richard E. Anderson, chairman and CEO of The Doctor’s Co. (the country’s largest medical malpractice insurer), who said that as a general rule, malpractice claims increase in bad economic times and that there has been a recent uptick in the number of claims against healthcare providers. (As others interviewed for the Chronicle’s article predicted, the number of medical malpractice claims in the future will also depend on whether the Georgia Supreme Court upholds a recent trial court ruling striking down the 2005 tort reform law that capped non-economic damages at $350,000. See February 23, 2009 Georgia Insurance Defense Lawyer Blog post, “Georgia Judge Strikes Down Damage Caps in Medical Malpractice Actions”.)

The construction industry is also experiencing an increase in claims. Dun & Bradstreet’s web site, Allbusiness.com, reported a spike in construction litigation claims during the second half of 2008. According to the experts interviewed for that article, developers, owners and contractors are less willing to compromise in this tough economy and are also attempting to recoup losses through litigation.

The National Law Journal and AllBusiness.com both recently reported similar trends in the legal malpractice area, where those effected by the meltdown in the real estate markets and the increased rates of failed business deals are looking for people to blame.

Because there is often a lag between any change in economic conditions and its effects on the filing of claims of any sort, most of these reports are anecdotal rather than actual statistics demonstrating a connection between current conditions and the number of claims being filed. Hopefully, optimistic forecasts that the economic markets have bottomed out and the economy will soon begin to recover will limit any significant changes in the numbers of claims being filed, and allow us to return to business as usual.