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Most Physicians Will Be Sued for Medical Malpractice, Though Payouts Are Few, Study Finds

Posted Aug 18, 2011 11:25 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Most physicians and virtually every surgeon will face a medical malpractice claim at least once in their careers, a study has found.

But only one claim out of five results in a settlement or other payout, the Associated Press and the Boston Globe report. Neurosurgeons and heart surgeons are sued the most, while pediatricians and psychiatrists are sued the least. Across specialties, the average indemnity payment was about $275,00 and the median was about $112,000.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed medical malpractice data from a national insurer for the years 1991 to 2005. “Our study uncovered an important aspect of malpractice liability: the high likelihood of claims that do not result in payments to a plaintiff,” the authors write. Yet physicians consistently report concerns about malpractice claims, “suggesting that the risk of being sued alone may create a tangible fear among physicians.”

One of the study authors is economist Amitabh Chandra, a public policy professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He said the study highlights the need to resolve med-mal disputes before litigation. “In some sense, the payment is the least important part, because you can insure against it, but you can’t insure against the hassle cost,” Chandra told the Globe.

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