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Open Access Research article

High and low-risk specialties experience with the U.S. medical malpractice system

Aaron E Carroll123* and Jennifer L Buddenbaum12

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA

2 Center for Pediatric and Adolescent Comparative Effectiveness Research, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, IN, USA

3 HITS 4099C, 410 West 10th St, Indianapolis, IN 46202, USA

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:465  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-465

Published: 6 November 2013

Abstract

Background

“High-liability risk specialties” tend to be the focus of medical malpractice system research and debate, but concerns and fears are not limited to this group. The objective of this study was to examine whether “high-liability risk” medical specialties have a different experience with the malpractice system than “low-liability risk” specialties.

Methods

We reviewed claims data from the Physician Insurers Association of America’s Data Sharing Project between January 1985 and December 2008. We used linear regression, controlling for year, to determine how liability risk affected outcomes of interest.

Results

In high-liability risk specialties, 33% of claims result in indemnity payments compared to 28% for low-liability risk specialties (p < 0.001). The average indemnity payment for high-liability risk specialties was $315,314 compared to $267,146 for low-liability risk specialties (p = 0.25). Although only a small percentage of claims go to trial, low-liability risk specialties have significantly more claims that are ultimately dropped, withdrawn or dismissed, while high-liability risk specialties have significantly more claims that result in plaintiff settlement (p < 0.001).

Conclusions

Malpractice risk exists for all specialties. Variability in indemnity costs are found in both high- and low-liability risk specialties. Differences in the reasons for which claims are initiated for high- and low-liability risk specialties likely necessitate different risk management solutions.