Risky Business: Malpractice Claims for Physicians

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Nearly all physicians working in high-risk specialties can expect to face at least one malpractice claim during their careers.

New England Journal of Medicine

Nearly all physicians working in a high-risk specialty — like surgery — are projected to face at least one malpractice claim during their careers, according to an article in the .

Across all specialties, 7.4% of physicians annually had a claim and 1.6% making an indemnity payment. Of course, physicians facing a claim annually varied greatly across specialties. Neurosurgeons faced the biggest probability of a claim with 19.1%, while psychiatry had to lowest probability at 2.6%.

According to the article, the specialties where indemnity claims were most prevalent were not necessarily the specialties were physicians were most likely to face a malpractice claim. There was actually quite a large difference between the mean and median indemnity payment —$274,887 compared to $111,749, respectively.

“The difference between the mean and median payment reflects the right-skewed payment distribution,” wrote authors

Anupam B. Jena, M.D., Ph.D., Seth Seabury, Ph.D., Darius Lakdawalla, Ph.D., and Amitabh Chandra, Ph.D.


“Specialties that were most likely to face indemnity claims were often not those with the highest average payments.”

Although neurosurgeons are several times more likely than pediatricians to face a claim in a year, the average payment for neurosurgeons was $344,811, while pediatricians were paying an average of $520,924.

Among physicians in low-risk specialties, 36% are projected to face their first claim by the age 45, and 75% by the age 65. In high-risk specialties the numbers are a drastic increase. Before the age of 45, 88% of physicians in high-risk specialties will face a claim, and 99%will face one before the age of 65.

The large number of claims, whether or not they lead to payment, explains to explain perceived malpractice risks among physicians.