A recent study assessed how often physicians in the United States were being sued and how many of the medical malpractice claims actually led to payment. According to the study surgical specialties faced greater amounts of litigation whereas pediatricians and psychiatrists had the lowest risk of being sued.
The study assessed malpractice data from 1991 through 2005 for nearly 40,000 physicians in 25 clinical specialties. Of these physicians, 7.4 percent faced a medical malpractice claim each year, of which 1.6 percent faced a claim leading to payment.
Surgeons faced a significantly higher risk of being sued with 19.1 percent of the neurosurgeons in the study facing claims in a year, 18.9 percent of thoracic-cardiovascular surgeons, and 15.3 percent of general surgeons.
However the risk of facing a medical malpractice claim did not necessarily correlate with payments. Although cardiologists tend to be sued more than an average physician, they were also less likely to make payouts. Orthopedic, thoracic-cardiovascular surgeons, and gynecologists were not only more likely to be sued but also to face claims that actually resulted in payments.
According to the study, taking into account the 25 clinical specialties, the mean indemnity payment was $274,887. The median payment was $111,749. The average payments for neurosurgeons, who were more likely to face a lawsuit, was $344,811, while the average payment for pediatricians, who were less likely to face a claim, was $520,924.
The study demonstrated that not only is there a wide variation across different physician specialties with regards to medical malpractice claims, but that the financial payments to plaintiffs vary just as widely.
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