Healthcare News & Insights

Which docs gets sued most often — and what’s the real cost?


A new study from the American Medical Association looked into which doctors — by gender, age, specialty, etc. — are most likely to get sued or have other liability claims against them.

The report (downloadable) makes interesting — if sometimes maddening — gawking material. For example, a review of the records found that 65% of claims are dropped or dismissed, and another 30% are settled or decided via an alternate dispute method. Only 5% of claims actually go to court — of those, 90% are decided for the physician.

Even a win can be costly, however: Average costs to defend against a claim were just under $40,700. For claims that were dropped or withdrawn, it cost an average of just over $22k to defend; cases that go to trial average more than $100k to defend.

More frustrating: The rate of claims seems to have little correlation to actual malpractice. The AMA researchers found that among closed claims, 3% of patients hadn’t suffered any injury and in another 37%, there had been no error.

Worse: Many injured patients and wrongly accused doctors don’t get true justice. The researchers found that 27% of claims are paid despite the doctor not making an error. At the same time, 27% of patients who suffered from an error receive no compensation.

By the numbers

A doctor’s specialty, type of practice and even gender play a role in how likely he or she is to face liability claims.

Not surprisingly, the study found that the specialties with the highest rate of claims were general surgery and obstetrics/gynecology, with nearly 70% of physicians in those specialties facing suits during their careers.

Least likely to face claims: pediatricians and psychiatrists. Less than 30 percent of doctors in these specialties were sued during their careers.

The study also found that the type of practice can increase a doctor’s risk of being sued. Among physicians in solo practices or single specialty group practices, 45% faced lawsuits in their careers. The rate was only 40% for physicians working in hospitals, and 37% for doctors in multi-specialty group practices. Owners of practices are also more likely to be sued than employees.

Male doctors are twice as likely to be sued. In part, because they are concentrated in specialties with high rates of claims and are more likely to own their practices. The researchers noted that other studies indicate differences in interpersonal skills may contribute to some of the gender gap in lawsuits, but the data is difficult, at best, to quantify.

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