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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

More Evidence to Destroy the Myth of a Medical Malpractice Crisis

Who needs a real crisis – just create one by repeatedly claiming there is a crisis. Sooner or later, the repetition takes over and the crisis becomes real. See Thinking, Fast and Slow for a recent statement of the impact of message familiarity.

But myths are myths, and it’s always been a myth to say that medical malpractice suffered an explosion of claiming. On that topic, the Empirical Legal Studies blog brings news of more evidence disproving the myth of a the supposed medical malpractice crisis. Note also – the study reported below is a wide study in terms of years and numbers, and is not based on a single incident story of what happened to Dr. X or at hospital Y. In court, insurers argue that single incident stories are "junk science" and not admissible to prove anything. Instead, they say, the only real evidence comes from broad studies over much time.

"Med-Mal Tort Reforms & Malpractice Payouts

by Michael Heise

While attention has focused on state medical malpractice over the years, attention has shifted away from claims against and payouts by physicians and surgeons. A recent paper by Myungho Paik (Northwestern), Bernie Black (Northwestern), and David Hyman (Illinois), The Receding Tide of Medical Malpractice Litigation, exploits the National Practitioner Data Bank and finds that per-physician payouts have fallen 46% below their 1992 level. The abstract follows.

"Tort reform has been a hot issue during the past decade, as malpractice premiums spiked, and state and federal legislators debated the desirability of damages caps. Nine states adopted caps on non-economic or total damages during the period 2003-2006, joining twenty-two states that had previously adopted caps. Great effort has been devoted to studying the impact of these caps, but overall trends in claim rates and payouts have been ignored. Using the National Practitioner Data Bank, we find the frequency of paid medical malpractice claims per physician has been dropping steadily for almost 20 years, and is now less than half the level it was in 1992. Payouts per physician have also been dropping since 2003, and are now 46% below their 1992 level. The decline is largest in states that recently capped total or non-economic damages, but there are also large and sustained declines in states with older damage caps and states with no damage caps. We identify several factors that may partially explain these trends, and suggest possibilities for further research." (emphasis added)

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