The South Dakota Division of Insurance requires that medical liability insurers in the state submit a report with a summary of claims each year. In 2016, these providers paid out merely $1.8 million in settlements in resolution of 12 cases. This is a considerable disparity compared to $6.4 million spread among 18 settlements in 2015, and $10.9 million over 27 settlements in 2014. These statewide numbers are comparatively low; however, the state population ranks approximately 46th in the U.S. To compare, the state has roughly 840,000 residents, which is about half the population of the City of Philadelphia (1,500,000).
A representative from MMIC, the state’s largest provider of medical liability insurance, confirmed that the volume of claims as also declined. In 2016, there were only 125 claims overall, down from 163 the prior year. Very few cases in the state end up with a jury verdict. Going back to 2014, the single largest settlement was $3 million. These amounts are exclusively what were paid out by insurers, who may require that their medical professionals or facilities pay a deductible amount, which may not be factored into the calculations.
Another trend within the state’s medical malpractice activity is that the cases tend to be lengthening in duration, often lingering on for several years. The state also requires insurers to submit a notification to the Division of Insurance each time a claim is filed. The majority of claims against health providers are withdrawn or dismissed with no payment. Injured patients or survivors tend to wait for several years in order to actually receive settlement funds. The average number of days for a case to be settled in South Dakota is approximately 824, or roughly 2.3 years. John Hughes, a lawyer in Sioux Falls, says that the state’s providers are mostly to blame for the delays and complexity in resolving cases. Many of the recent cases have extended for periods that exceeded 1,000 days. Nancy Turbak Berry, a Watertown attorney, attributes the lengthy amount of time associated with these cases to both sides having multiple experts who review and assess the standards of care. She says that often it can take several months to simply find the necessary medical experts.
In South Dakota medical malpractice actions, noneconomic damages are referred to as “general” damages and are subject to a limitation of $500,000. These apply for harms such as loss of care, loss of consortium and pain and suffering. The state does not have a limitation on economic damages, which are those that are more clearly quantified including past and future medical expenses and past and future lost earnings. The state’s statute of limitations in these actions is two years. The law regarding collateral sources is that defendants may not reduce their amount of liability due to other sources of payment that the plaintiff receives.