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For many years, physicians groups in Oregon and nationally have railed about a malpractice crisis said to be the cause of driving up costs and forcing doctors to close shop.

But a study published on Wednesday suggests malpractice damage awards have declined considerably in recent years.

Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen mined the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank to track malpractice payments made on behalf of doctors from 1990 to 2005. Findings show:

The average payment for a medical malpractice verdict, adjusted for inflation, dropped 8 percent.

The total number of malpractice judgments and settlements declined 15.4 percent.

The number of payments per 100,000 people declined more than 10 percent.

Public Citizen stands by trial lawyers in opposing efforts by medical groups to limit damages and awards. The Washington, D.C. group asserts that lawmakers should focus on reducing medical errors while tightening doctor discipline and oversight.

The Oregon Medical Association, counters that the high cost of malpractice insurance is hampering Oregon’s effort to recruit physicians where they are most needed and that doctors continue cutting back on offering high-risk medical care to minimize legal exposure.

Doctors in the health care industry have spent over $5.2 million in 2004 trying to limit medical malpractice awards with ballot measures but voters reject it.

For now, the Oregon Medical Association has given up getting a state cap on damages but the group is promoting several other ways to limit doctor malpractice costs.

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