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If you’re a doctor, you’ve got a 1 in 3 chance of being sued

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A new AMA analysis finds nearly half of all physicians age 55 and over have faced a lawsuit. Women doctors are less likely to be sued, the report said.

For physicians, the possibility of a lawsuit is hardly hypothetical.

Jack Resneck Jr., president of the American Medical Association, says most legal claims against physicians fail. (Photo: AMA)

Jack Resneck Jr., president of the American Medical Association, says most legal claims against physicians fail. (Photo: AMA)

Nearly one-third of America’s doctors say they have been sued, according to a new report by the American Medical Association. The analysis found 31.2% of physicians in 2022 reported that they have been sued at least once in their careers.

As doctors advance in their careers, they face a greater likelihood of a lawsuit. Nearly half (46.8%) of all doctors aged 55 and over have been sued. Conversely, only about one in 10 doctors (9.5%) under the age of 40 have been sued.

Jack Resneck Jr., president of the AMA, says lawsuits don’t necessarily reflect medical errors, and that even the most accomplished physicians can be sued.

However, he cited statistics that show doctors often fare well when sued.

“When physicians are sued, two-thirds of civil liability claims are dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn without a finding of fault,” Resneck said in a statement. “When claims proceed to trial and are decided by a verdict, the defendants prevail in nearly 9 out 10 cases.”

Gender gap

The AMA study on doctors and litigation indicates a gender gap, and this one favors women. Women physicians are less likely to be sued, the study found.

Nearly a quarter (23.8%) of women doctors have been sued, compared to 36.8% of male physicians. Women continue to lag male physicians in earnings, even at earlier stages in their careers, studies have shown.

The gap in claims has actually widened recently. In the 2016-18 period, 2.8% of men were sued in the previous year, while 1.6% of women received a claim. In 2022, again, 2.8% of men were sued, compared to 0.9% of women. It’s possible that the drop is tied to more women physicians dropping out of practice in the pandemic, the report states.

Recent drop

Fewer physicians have been sued in the past couple of years. The report found 1.8% of doctors say they were sued in 2022, down from 2.1% in 2020 and 2.4% in 2018.

It’s likely the drop in lawsuit is tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, as some people deferred care and didn’t utilize healthcare services, the report suggests.

Specialties vary

Doctors in certain specialties are more likely to be sued, according to the AMA report. In fact, the biggest variance in the likelihood of a lawsuit is tied to the area of practice.

Those in obstetrics and gynecology face the highest risk of lawsuits, with nearly two-thirds (62.4%) reporting they have been sued in their careers. General surgeons aren’t far behind, with 59.3% saying they’ve been sued at least once. Nearly half of all surgeons (48.9%) say they have been sued.

Primary care physicians face lower risks of lawsuits, as 13.2% of primary care doctors said they have been sued. Roughly one out of 11 pediatricians (9.1%) said they have been sued.


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