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Myth 1: Getting Sued Is a Random Event

Many physicians fatalistically believe that malpractice litigation is random and that nothing they do can reduce the chance of being sued.[16] They also overestimate their risk of being sued. The Harvard study found that physicians in New York believed that they had a 20 percent chance of being sued in a given year.[17] The real risk of being sued was closer to 6 percent. The gap between the perceived risk and the real risk was greater in areas of the state that had highly publicized medical malpractice problems.

The rate for most physicians is probably less than the average rate because there is evidence that medical malpractice claims are not evenly distributed but tend to cluster. In the extreme case of a small subspecialty, one physician with multiple claims can account for most of the litigation burden for the entire group. There is a randomness due to the low level of claims. Relatively few patients who are negligently injured by their physicians ever make a claim for compensation.[18]

[16]Sloan FA; Mergenhagen PM; Burfield WB; Bovbjerg RR; Hassan M: Medical malpractice experience of physicians; Predictable or haphazard? JAMA 1989; 262:3291.

[17]Patients, Doctors, and Lawyers: Medical Injury, Malpractice Litigation, and Patient Compensation in New York: The Report of the Harvard Medical Practice Study to the State of New York. 1990.

[18]Patients, Doctors, and Lawyers: Medical Injury, Malpractice Litigation, and Patient Compensation in New York: The Report of the Harvard Medical Practice Study to the State of New York. 1990.


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