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Failing Over and Over: Doctors with Repeat Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Michael Becker

The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) recently published an article examining medical malpractice settlements and verdicts, with the intent of determining whether malpractice is spread out evenly, or whether there are a high percentage of repeat offenders.  The thinking goes that, if repeat offenders can be identified early, then specialized training or other interventions can improve quality care.

The Data & Findings- Repeat Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

The study’s authors examined data from 66,426 paid claims, which included 54,099 physicians from 2005 to 2014.  Extraordinarily, about 1% of physicians had 32% of the paid claims.  In that 10-year period:

  • 84% of the doctors had only one paid claim
  • 16% of the doctors had two paid claims
  • 4% of the doctors had at least three paid claims

Of course, some types of doctors were more likely to be involved in multiple claims—obstetricians, neurosurgeons and orthopedists are more likely to have lawsuits and claims against them than other specialties like psychiatrists and internal medicine physicians.

Taking Action: What Patients Can Do

The data for this study came from the U.S. National Practitioner Data Bank, which tracks malpractice claims against doctors.  Unfortunately, the Data Bank is not available to patients, who must sort out other means to identify whether their doctor has a history of paying claims.

Patients who want to know about their doctor can do a number of things (see our prior post on this issue:  Preventing Medical Malpractice Injuries: Selecting a Doctor):

  • Get referrals from friends and family
  • Ask a medical malpractice lawyer who practices in the same state as the doctor to research the doctor or share his/her experience with the doctor.
  • If your state courts post information online, look up the doctor
  • Check with your state’s medical licensing board—sometimes they will give a history of malpractice claims

Remember—just because a doctor has had a malpractice claim or lawsuit (with or without a settlement or verdict), it does not necessarily mean that he or she is a bad doctor.  It simply means that the doctor made a mistake, or that the patient believed that there was a good chance the lawsuit would have determined that the doctor made a mistake.  For some, one malpractice claim could lead to a wake-up call and better care down the road.

Contact Us

Most doctors are caring and qualified.  This study shows that many of the malpractice claims are by repeat offenders—doctors who, for whatever reason, have likely made mistakes with multiple patients.  If you have questions about how to select a doctor, contact us at (440) 252-4399, or send us your questions online.

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