Study Shows Physicians’ Fear of Being Sued is Justified

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A comprehensive study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that by age 65, nearly 75% of physicians in low-risk specialties and 99% of physicians in high-risk specialties (primarily surgical) had faced a malpractice claim. Notably, though, the majority of these claims did not result in a payment. The study’s authors analyzed malpractice data from 1991 to 2005 for all physicians who were covered by a large, multi-state, professional liability carrier (40,916 physicians and 233,738 physician-years of coverage).  Each year 7.4% of all physicians had a malpractice claim with 1.6% leading to payment (i.e., 78% of all claims did not result in payment).

These statistics are consistent with what the Trust, along with other professional liability carriers, has found over the years.  The Physician Insurers Association of America, of which the Trust is a member, has figures showing that 70% of claims against physicians do not result in payment, and of cases going to trial, the defense wins over 80% of the time.

The hope is that studies such as this will help convince lawmakers at both the state and federal levels that tort reform discussions need to focus on the physician as well as the patient, because it provides strong data to support the anxiety many physicians feel about getting sued and the “broken” nature of the malpractice system.

For a complete copy of the NEJM article, please click here.