It’s not a question of "if”, it’s question of “when." What's the likelihood that you will be sued?
It depends. . .
I know that physicians like data and statistics… almost as much as lawyers like to respond with “it depends.” So let's dive right into statistics about medical malpractice suits. Here is what we will cover:
The likelihood of being sued.
The percentage of claims that are paid out.
The likelihood of winning a medical malpractice lawsuit.
I am not going to get into the weeds in this post. I just want to highlight the stats that I think are most important. If you would like a deep dive, please check out the citation references below.
There is a high likelihood that you will be sued at some point in your life . . . But statistically, and regardless of whether it makes you feel better, so will the rest of your colleague and doctor friends.
This is especially true for those in high risk specialties. You know . . the ones whose specialization includes the word “surgeon,” physicians whose days are spent bringing humans into this world, or those who are saving patients on their death beds.
For physicians in high-risk specialties:
- 88% will be sued before turning 45
- 99% will be sued before celebrating their 65th birthday
In low-risk specialties:
- 36% will get sued by 45
- 75% will join their colleagues by 65
Before we dive into statistic #2, I would like to ask any physician who has been sued, or is in the process of a lawsuit, to answer the question below honestly and to themselves.
Is there any part of you, no matter how small, that believes being sued must mean you provided negligent care?
If you do, you are not alone. Such a belief is extremely common.
Most physicians involved in a lawsuit logically know that being sued, in and of itself, does not mean that they provided negligent care. Despite this, there are many who can’t shake the the feeling that they must have done something wrong, or they would not have been sued.
From my experience, such a belief is untrue in most cases. But don’t just take my word for it.
According to the 2011 NEJM article, which analyzed malpractice data from 1991 through 2005, 78% of claims against physicians did not result in payment to the injured party. Seventy eight percent!!!!
What does that mean?
It means that most malpractice claims are either dismissed or go to trial with the juries finding in favor of the physician. Which circles us back to the original question.
Being sued DOES NOT mean that you were negligent.
It simply means that someone 'thinks' there is a claim. This is key to remember. Someone's belief that you were negligent does not establish it as fact. Another medical expert's opinion supporting the patient's belief that you were negligent also does not establish it as fact.
The party who is suing has the burden of proof. Allegations do not meet that burden.
And according to the statistics, while most physicians will find themselves defending a lawsuit at some point in their lives, the percentage of those claims that are actually paid on (via settlement or judgment) is FRACTIONAL.
So this brings us to the last statistic for the week.
Physicians win 80% - 90% of the time in cases that are taken to trial, where the evidence against the physician is weak. HOLY SMOKES!
Physicians win in about 70% of cases with “borderline” evidence.
Doctors win 50% of the time when there is “strong” evidence of medical negligence. 🤔
This is some pretty powerful stuff.
I hope that the statistics I shared in this article provided you with some relief and an understanding of what a lawsuit really means as it relates to your care.
Hint: it means absolutely nothing.
A physician is not negligent until proven otherwise.
And, according to the statistics above, proving negligence in a medical malpractice case is no easy feat.
BOTTOM LINE: There is an extremely high likelihood that all of your colleagues have been sued, or will be sued at some point. Especially those in the high-risk specialty group.
I do not share this statistic to cause panic. I simply bring it up to highlight that lawsuits are a normal part of practicing medicine.
What other professional carries such risk? I cannot think of one.
Perhaps if we start viewing and accepting lawsuits against physicians as collateral damage of practicing medicine, we can start creating the necessary resources that physicians will actually use.
Please reach out if you have any questions, ideas for additional content, or want to share your experience with others (confidentially).
See The New England Journal of Medicine on “Medical Malpractice Risk by Specialty” published by Anupam B. Jena, M.D., Ph.D., Seth Seabury, Ph.D., Darius Lakdawalla, Ph.D., and Amitabh Chandra, Ph.D., August 18, 201
See an article “Twenty Years of Evidence on the Outcomes of Malpractice Claims” published online by Philip G. Peters, JD, in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research on December 2, 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2628515