Dateline: August, 2007, Issue 6

How common are frivolous medical malpractice claims?

Studdert and colleagues (2006) recently analyzed the prevalence, characteristics, litigation outcomes, and costs of medical malpractice claims that lacked evidence of error. Trained physicians reviewed a random sample of 1,452 closed malpractice claims from five liability insurers to determine whether a medical injury had occurred and, if so, whether it was due to medical error. For 3% of the claims, there were no verifiable medical injuries, and 37% did not involve errors.

Most of the claims that had no errors or injuries received no compensation, though 28% without errors and 16% without injuries were compensated. Nonpayment of claims involving errors occurred more frequently than payment of claims not involving errors.

When claims not involving errors were compensated, payments were significantly lower on average than were payments for claims involving errors ($313,205 vs. $521,560).

The researchers concluded that claims that lack evidence of error are not uncommon, but most are denied compensation, and that the vast majority of expenditures go toward litigation over errors and payment of them.

Source Studdert, D. M., Mello, M. M., Gawande, A. A., Gandhi, T. K., Kachalia, A., Yoon, C., Puopolo, A. L., & Brennan, T. A. (2006). Claims, errors and compensation payments in medical malpractice litigation. New England Journal of Medicine, 354, pp. 2024-2033.