National Medical Malpractice Statistics

A breakdown of data on plaintiffs, defendants, types of medical errors, and more.


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This article spotlights a number of statistics on medical malpractice, from incidence of medical errors to compensation in medical malpractice lawsuits. For another look at real-world data on these kinds of cases, check out our companion article on Trends in Medical Malpractice Cases.   

Statistical Profile of Medical Malpractice Patients

Of plaintiff patients in a recent study of medical malpractice cases, the majority were female (60%), with a median age of 38 years old. About one-fifth were newborns, and approximately 12% were over 65 years of age. These numbers are from a 2006 New England Journal of Medicine study, which took a random look at 1,452 resolved medical malpractice cases involving malpractice insurance carriers across all regions of the U.S.

Statistical Profile of Defendants in Medical Malpractice Cases

There is a fairly even distribution when it comes to medical malpractice lawsuits being filed against certain kinds of health care providers. In the NEJM study detailed in the above paragraph, obstetrician-gynecologists (OBGYNs) were the defendants in 19% of cases, with the next most common defendants being general surgeons (17%) and primary care physicians (16%).  

Average Compensation in Medical Malpractice Claims

Looking at all paid medical malpractice claims (i.e. through settlement agreement or jury award) from 2005 to 2009, a study that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that the average compensation for medical malpractice that occurred in the inpatient setting was around $363,000, while the average award for healthcare mistakes in the outpatient setting was about $290,000.

Results of the NEJM study (mentioned above) showed average compensation in medical malpractice claims to be about $485,000, with average jury awards after a verdict in court checking in at almost twice the average out-of-court settlement ($799,000 for jury awards and $462,000 for settlements). 

Patients’ Success Rate in Medical Malpractice Trials

While the dollar figures are fairly high for medical malpractice plaintiffs who are successful at trial, the numbers show that plaintiffs aren’t all that likely to get a verdict in their favor. Of medical malpractice cases that make it to court trials, plaintiffs prevailed in 21% of verdicts, while settlement-based resolutions favored the plaintiff in 61% of cases (data from NEJM study discussed above).

Read more about five real-life medical malpractice stories and its verdicts.

Percentage of Healthcare Mistakes Reported by Hospitals

Treatment errors and other mistakes made in the provision of health care to Medicare patients are reported by hospitals in only 14% of cases, said a 2012 study released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.   

Most Common Reasons for Medical Malpractice Claims

For inpatient incidents, surgery errors accounted for about 34% of medical malpractice claims, checking in as the most common basis for a claim. On the outpatient side, errors in diagnosis made up about 46% of all medical malpractice claims (data from the JAMA study mentioned above).     

Average Time Periods in Medical Malpractice Cases

In a 2007 study that looked at the outcomes of medical malpractice cases in select U.S. states, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that the average injured patient waits 16.5 months before filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Once the suit is filed, it takes an average of 27.5 months to reach resolution of a medical malpractice case (i.e. through a negotiated settlement or through a jury verdict). 

Percentage of Medical Malpractice Cases that Settle

About 93% of all medical malpractice cases are resolved before trial, meaning that only 7% of cases end in a jury verdict in favor of the patient or the health care provider (data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics). 

Costs of Medical Malpractice Nationwide

According to a 2009 Congressional Budget Office Report, the total direct costs to healthcare providers resulting from medical malpractice liability (including malpractice insurance, settlements, awards, and administrative costs not covered by insurance) was $35 billion in 2009. This figure represented 2% of the total healthcare expenditures across the U.S. for that same year.

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