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MALPRACTICE STUDY FINDS FEW PATIENTS FILED SUITS

A study of malpractice in New York hospitals concludes that in 1984 negligence by doctors or hospital workers may have contributed to about 7,000 hospital deaths and an additional 29,000 injuries, according today's New York Times.

The researchers from Harvard University concluded that 306 of the 30,195 patients studied, or just over 1 percent, were treated negligently, yet only 47 patients filed lawsuits, the Times said.

State officials stressed that the deaths were not necessarily caused by the negligence, the Times said. In some cases, the negligence could have shortened the patient's life by only one day, officials said.

Lawyers cite the low margin of courtroom victories -- 40 percent -- and the trend of low payments for guilty verdicts as reasons for the small number of lawsuits filed, the Times said.

The state health commissioner, Dr. David Axelrod, cited the study Wednesday when he called for a system of no-fault medical malpractice insurance, which would drastically change the existing legal liability system.

Axelrod's no-fault plan would take medical malpractice cases out of the courtroom and put them before an administrative board.

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