Lowering coffinProfessionals in any kind of occupation have their share of bad apples, or those who make the rest of the profession look bad. Physicians are no different and a study from the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that a small number of bad doctors, actually just 1%, account for 32% of paid medical negligence claims.


Not all medical malpractice claims result in a settlement or award of damages. Such claims are notoriously difficult to prosecute successfully, meaning that claimants need a highly experienced and knowledgeable malpractice lawyer in their corner if they hope for compensation from a grievous error made by a physician or other medical provider.


The study cited in the Journal reviewed about 70,000 medical malpractice claims involving 55,000 physicians over a period of 10-years. The majority of paid claims, or 68%, concerned doctors who incurred only one claim during the 10-year period who comprised 84% of the doctors. 16% of doctors had at least 2 paid claims, or 32% of the paid claims. The remaining 4% of doctors were those with at least 3 paid claims, or 12% of those that were paid.


From a specific analysis of the claims, the researchers were able to ascertain that just 1% of these doctors were responsible for 32% of the paid claims, and that they represented those practitioners with recurring paid claims. Their claim history was especially relevant. Of the 2,160 physicians who had 3 or more claims, they were found to be 3 times more likely to have another malpractice claim compared to the majority of doctors who had only one paid claim, or a 24% chance of another paid claim within the next 2 years. For doctors with at least 6 paid claims, they were 12 times more likely to incur another one.


Not surprisingly, most malpractice claims center around surgeons and surgical mistakes. When compared to internal medicine practitioners, the risk doubled among neurosurgeons, orthopedic, general, plastic surgeons and OBGYNs. An interesting aspect of the study was that males had a 35% higher risk than females in having recurring claims. Younger physicians, or those under 35, had one-third the risk than those who were older.


How these findings translate into better or safer patient care is not easily determined. Patients can ask if their surgeons have had any paid malpractice claims and, if there are multiple ones, request a different surgeon. Hospitals could increase monitoring of doctors with recurrent claims, limit their involvement in difficult cases or ensure that they are accompanied by other surgeons during even routine procedures. In any event, the study is at least a step in making patients if not hospitals aware that certain doctors pose increased risks.


Types of Medical Malpractice Claims


Common types of medical malpractice claims involve:


  • Failure to diagnose or delay in diagnosis
  • Surgery on wrong body part
  • Leaving surgical instruments inside a body cavity
  • Failure to monitor
  • Failure to respond to fetal distress
  • Failure to anticipate birth complications
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Puncturing an internal organ
  • Medication errors


In Massachusetts, medical malpractice claims require expert testimony from physicians in the particular specialty that is the subject of the claim to establish the standard of care and to state whether the physician breached the standard of care in causing the injury or fatality. Claims must be brought within 3 years of when the error was discovered or should have been discovered and no more than 7 years in any event. There is a 6-month pre-litigation phase for the parties to resolve the claim. If it is, then the error is not reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank.


Also, most claims are limited to a recovery of $500,000, but which does not include compensation for medical expenses and lost earnings. There are other exceptions to the cap on damages as well.


Consult Lovenberg & Associates


Contact Lovenberg & Associates of Boston if you or a loved one suffered an injury or fatality because of physician error. Bad doctors demand a malpractice lawyer who can properly advise you regarding your options and your claim’s potential for compensation. With 20 years of experience in obtaining millions in compensation for his clients, Doug Lovenberg has earned the trust of clients throughout the greater Boston area.