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The Frequency and Costs of Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

About  half of physicians in the United States have been named in a medical malpractice lawsuit, and just over 50% of those doctors have been defendants multiple times. That’s what research shows from a 2023 Medscape report.

Patients most frequently sue general surgeons, OB/GYNS, and orthopedic surgeons. About a third (31%) of physicians pay $20,000 or more for annual malpractice premiums, and four in 10 (41%) of doctors said that the cost isn’t reasonable.

The rates at which primary care physicians (PCPs) and specialists were sued for malpractice were consistent in the past few years, but since the pandemic, doctors have seen less litigation. A 2019 report showed 62% of specialists and 52% of primary care physicians reported being sued. The most frequently sued specialists were:

  • General surgeons;
  • OB/GYNS;
  • Orthopedic surgeons
  • Plastic surgeons; and
  • Otolaryngologists.

However, the COVID pandemic dramatically impacted our courts. This resulted in fewer filings and a significant backlog of cases. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, incoming civil cases dropped by 26%, according to data from the National Center for State Courts.

What Type of Claims are Brought Most Often?

Since Medscape’s 2015 malpractice report, failure to diagnosis or delayed diagnosis has consistently been the top claim reported by physicians. Moreover, the researchers found that “the big three” diseases account for about 75% of serious misdiagnosis-related injuries. In a study of 11,592 diagnostic error cases, the following were associated with the most severe misdiagnosis-related harms:

  1. Misdiagnosed cancers (37.8%);
  2. Vascular events (22.8%); and
  3. Infections (13.5%).

In addition, studies show that the more frequently a doctor is sued, the more likely he or she will be sued again. Analysis published in The New England of Journal of Medicine found that physicians with two paid claims were nearly twice as likely to face a future claim. Further, doctors with three paid claims had three times the risk for recurrence.

“Over a recent 10-year period, a relatively small group of US physicians accounted for a disproportionately large share of paid malpractice claims,” wrote lead study author David Studdert, LLB, ScD, a professor of law and health policy at Stanford University.

Several physician characteristics, most notably the number of previous claims and the physician’s specialty, were significantly associated with recurrence of claims.

  • 59% of physicians have been defendants in a medical malpractice lawsuit, either alone or with others.
  • 49% of defendants have been sued two to five times in their career.

What Do Doctors Pay in Premiums?

Premiums are usually higher for high-risk specialties such as OB/GYN, neurosurgery, and thoracic surgery. In general, medical liability premiums represent about 1%-3% of practice overhead costs. And although the premiums represent only a fraction of office costs, when asked if the cost of their premiums was reasonable, more than a third (37%) of physicians answered yes and 41% no; and the rest were unsure.

Most doctors in the survey reported paying between $5,000 and $10,000 (19%). Another 25% said they paid between $10,000 and $20,000. And 10% of respondents said they paid somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000.

Speak with the Experienced Team at Buchanan Firm

Mistakes by healthcare professionals can lead to injury, illness, and death. Having an experienced law firm that’s prepared to represent you is essential.

Our firm proudly serves people all across Michigan, including major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after hours, at home, or in the hospital to accommodate you.

Contact us today!