Doctors Who Get Sued Are Likely to Get Sued Again, According to Study
Doctors who have previously been successfully sued for malpractice are far more likely to face additional malpractice claims. This is the central finding of a new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year. As stated by the study’s authors:
“[A] relatively small group of U.S. physicians account[s] for a disproportionately large share of paid malpractice claims. Several physician characteristics, most notably the number of previous claims and the physician’s specialty, were significantly associated with recurrence of claims.”
The study found a number of other startling trends in the likelihood and recurrence of medical malpractice, as well.
The Data: Medical Malpractice is a Recurring Issue for Physicians
Analyzing more than 66,000 claims over a 10-year period, the authors behind, Prevalence and Characteristics of Physicians Prone to Malpractice Claims, found that only roughly six percent of all physicians in the United States have been the subject of a malpractice claim. However, among those who have been sued for malpractice, the rate of recurrence is substantial:
- Approximately one percent of physicians have been sued two or more times for malpractice. These doctors account for 32 percent of all paid medical malpractice claims.
- While only 0.2 percent of U.S. doctors have been sued three or more times for malpractice, these doctors account for 12 percent of all paid medical malpractice claims.
In other words, during the study period, less than 9,000 doctors accounted for more than 21,000 successful medical malpractice claims, while 2,160 physicians with three or more successful claims accounted for 7,801 instances of medical malpractice. The study went on to examine doctors with as many as six successful malpractice claims in their past, finding 126 such doctors who had collectively been successfully sued 960 times for causing harm to their patients.
Here is a breakdown of the data:
- More than two successful claims: 8,846 physicians successfully sued 21,173 times
- More than three successful claims: 2,160 physicians successfully sued 7,801 times
- More than four successful claims: 722 physicians successfully sued 3,847 times
- More than five successful claims: 269 physicians successfully sued 1,675 times
- More than six successful claims: 126 physicians successfully sued 960 times
Based upon these data, the study’s authors determined that, compared to physicians with just one previous claim, physicians with two previous claims were nearly twice as likely to commit medical malpractice again. Physicians with three previous claims were three times as likely to face another successful claim, and physicians with six or more previous claims were 12 times as likely to be sued again for medical malpractice.
Types of Physicians Most Likely to Commit Medical Malpractice
In examining the data, the study’s authors also identified five specific types of physicians who were most likely to face successful claims for medical malpractice. Of course, this does not mean that doctors who practice in these specialties are necessarily more likely to commit malpractice. However, it does show that patients who see these types of physicians, as a general rule, need to be particularly wary of the risk of being injured due to a medical mistake. According to the study, the five types of physicians most likely to commit malpractice more than once are (in order):
- Orthopedic Surgeons
- General Surgeons
- Plastic Surgeons
Over the course of the 10-year study period, psychiatrists and pediatricians had the lowest risk of recurrence for medical malpractice claims.
More broadly, the study’s authors also examined physician specialty groups to determine which types of physicians saw the greatest rate of successful malpractice claims regardless of the recurrence rate among individual physicians. They found that four specialty groups accounted for more than half (51 percent) of all successful medical malpractice claims:
- Internal medicine – 15 percent of all successful medical malpractice claims
- Obstetrics and Gynecology – 13 percent of all successful medical malpractice claims
- General Surgery – 12 percent of all successful medical malpractice claims
- General Practice or Family Medicine – 11 percent of all successful medical malpractice claims
Other Factors Linked to Increased Risk of Malpractice
In addition to prior medical malpractice claims and practicing within these four specialty groups, the study’s authors identified a number of other factors that may indicate an increased risk of malpractice claims, as well. For example, among physicians with at least one successful medical malpractice claim:
- Out of 54,099 physicians, 82 percent were male.
- Physicians over the age of 45 account for more than two-thirds of all medical malpractice claims.
- The vast majority, 87 percent, worked in metropolitan areas. Just four percent worked in small towns and rural areas.
- 77 percent of physicians found liable for malpractice were trained in the United States.
Medical Malpractice Settlement and Court Verdict Statistics
Tragically, medical malpractice tends to have severe negative consequences for innocent patients and their loved ones. While perhaps due to the fact that a large number of “minor” instances of medical malpractice simply go unreported, the study’s findings indicate that a substantial majority of successful medical malpractice cases involve catastrophic injuries, and on average they result in substantial payments of financial compensation to victims and their families.
According to the study’s authors:
- 32 percent of successful malpractice claims involve medical errors resulting in the death of the patient.
- “Major” and “significant” physical injuries accounted for more than half (53 percent) of all successful medical malpractice claims.
- The average compensation paid to successful claimants was $371,054.
As with all types of personal injury and wrongful death claims, the vast majority of medical malpractice claims settle without ever going to trial. In fact, among the claims analyzed in the study, just three percent resulted in a trial verdict for the claimant. The remaining 97 percent were resolved through an out-of-court settlement.
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