AMA Report On Medical Malpractice Statistics In 2020-2022

On average, physicians over the age of 54 were no more or less likely than those 40-54 (reference group) to face claims in the previous 12-month period. However, the fraction of physicians under 40 who were sued recently was a bit lower…, AMA Report On Medical Malpractice Statistics In The United States For 2020-2022
JuLY 2023


Sixty five percent of medical malpractice claims that closed between 2016 and 2018 were dropped, dismissed or withdrawn, and out of the 6 percent of claims that were decided by a trial verdict, 89 percent were won by the defendant.


In 2022, 31.2 percent of physicians reported that they had been sued in their careers to date, which is slightly lower than it was 2016, when 34.0 percent of physicians had ever been sued.


Sixty one claims had ever been filed per 100 physicians in 2022, which is slightly lower than it was in 2016, when there had been 68 claims per 100 physicians. It appears that longer-term risk has fallen over time.


Longer-term risk of getting sued increases with age, which is not surprising given that physicians with more years in practice have had more exposure to risk. Whereas 9.5 percent of physicians under 40 have been sued, almost half of physicians over 54 have been. Eleven claims per 100 physicians have ever been filed against those under 40, compared to 100 claims for those over 54.


Women were less likely to have been sued in the prior year than men. This gender differential grew over time. In the 2016-2018 period, 2.8 percent of men were sued in the previous year, compared to 1.6 percent of women. There was no change over time for men in 2020-2022, but the likelihood that women received a claim fell to 0.9 percent.


36.8 percent of male physicians have been sued in their careers to date, compared to 23.8 percent of women. On average, women have fewer claims (42 per 100 physicians) than male physicians (75 per 100).


Surgical specialties are generally at highest risk, and internal medicine subspecialties are at lowest risk. The risk of being sued in a one-year period is highest among general surgeons. Close to 8 percent of general surgeons were sued in the previous year.


OB/GYNs, general surgeons, other surgeons, and orthopedic surgeons are at highest risk, with 62.4 percent, 59.3 percent, 55.5 percent and 47.2 percent, respectively, of those physicians having ever faced a claim. OB/GYNs have faced an average of 152 claims per 100 physicians, while general surgeons have had the most (193). Among the surgical subspecialties, the risk of ever being sued ranges from 13.1 percent of dermatologists to 62.4 percent of OB/GYNs.


Employed physicians have a lower claim frequency than owners. In the 2020-2022 period, 1.7 percent of employees were sued in the previous year, and 28.7 percent of employees had ever been sued, compared to 2.3 percent and 35.4 percent of owners, respectively.


AMA Report Conclusions


The risk of being sued over a short period of time among all physicians is generally low. In 2022, 1.8 percent of physicians reported they had been sued in the previous year. This is down from 2.4 percent in 2018 and 2.1 percent in 2020. This reduction in the probability of being sued recently may be at least partially explained by lower exposure to risk due to a decrease in the utilization of services provided during the COVID-19 pandemic. A look at previous literature suggests such risk has also fallen over a longer period of time. Jena et al. (2011) found that 7.4 percent of physicians faced a claim annually between 1991 and 2003. Gonzalez (1998) found that 7.7 percent of physicians incurred liability claims in 1996. Kane (2010) found that 5.1 percent of physicians faced a claim in the year prior to the 2007-08 period, and Schaffer et al.’s (2017) findings suggest 3.2 percent of physicians per year faced a claim in the 2009-2014 period.


In contrast and not surprisingly, a much higher proportion of physicians are at risk of getting sued over the longer term. It seems to be just a matter of time, or more specifically, of longer exposure before a physician is sued. In 2022, 31.2 percent of physicians had been sued during their careers to date.


There is a strong positive correlation between longer-term claim frequency and age. Physicians under the age of 40 are 15.6 percentage points less likely and those over 54 are 21.9 percentage points more likely to have ever been sued than their age 40-54 counterparts. These differences are almost identical when controlling for other factors. This age-risk relationship is not surprising given that older physicians have been practicing for a longer period of time and thus have had more exposure to risk.


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