Small Percentage of Doctors Involved in Half of Medical Malpractice Settlements


A new study published in the Journal of Patient Safety reveals a telling statistic about medical malpractice in the United States: fewer than two percent of doctors are responsible for about half of medical malpractice settlements.

The authors of the study looked at 321,682 malpractice payments collected by the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) from 1990 to 2015. The NPDB is a confidential repository of information created by Congress to improve the quality of health care. The malpractice settlements totaled more than $83 billion during the 25-year period. The researchers found a clustering of malpractice payments among a small percentage of doctors who they characterized as “outlier physicians.” Physicians who had a high dollar medical malpractice payout had a 74 percent chance of another payout, they said.

A previous 2016 study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, came to a similar conclusion. Researchers at Stanford University analyzed 10 years of NPDB data and found that one percent of doctors were responsible for 32% of all medical malpractice settlements.

Doctors in four medical specialties accounted for more than half of the negligence claims:

The average payment was $371,054.

Both studies found that doctors who paid more than one malpractice claim also were more likely to pay a subsequent claim. Physicians who had at least two paid malpractice claims had twice the risk of having another claim.

How to Find if a Doctor Has Been Disciplined

The most recent data revealed another piece of information worth underscoring: only a small percentage of medical professionals who were involved in medical malpractice settlements were reprimanded by licensing boards or lost their clinical privileges. Most of the doctors who commit repeated medical errors continue to practice and treat patients. The authors of the study say there is a need for more attention to identifying these “outlier physicians” who account for multiple malpractice claims and reducing their negative impact on the safety of patients.

For patients, knowing whether a doctor has a troubling track record of complaints or has been disciplined by a medical board is important. The State of Rhode Island Department of Health acknowledges the importance of transparency. The agency provides a list of physician disciplinary actions. You can look up your physician on the list, which is alphabetized by the physician’s last name.

How to Find Out if a Doctor Has Complaints

A lack of disciplinary actions, however, does not necessarily mean that a doctor has never been sued for medical malpractice or had complaints filed. A doctor may have been sued for medical malpractice or paid settlements, but never been formally disciplined by the state medical board.

You can search for disciplinary actions in the central disciplinary database, or call the Rhode Island Department of Health for more information about complaints filed against a doctor at 401-222-5960. You can also file a complaint against a doctor online using the Rhode Island Department of Health’s website.

Has My Rhode Island Doctor Been Sued for Malpractice?

You have the right to know whether your doctor has been sued for malpractice. Remember, many doctors who are sued do not have disciplinary actions taken against them by state medical boards, which means that even if your doctor has not been disciplined, they may have been named in a malpractice suit.

Any pleadings that are filed in connection with civil actions become public record, which means that you have the right to request court records as such. Refer to the following information about obtaining court documents in Rhode Island, published by the Rhode Island Judiciary.

Contact Us Today

If you believe that you or a loved one has been a victim of malpractice, our experienced Rhode Island medical malpractice attorneys at Marasco & Nesselbush, LLP are here to answer your questions. Our attorneys have successfully represented numerous people who were harmed by medical malpractice. We will review the details of your injury and explain your legal options during a free consultation. Please contact us today for your free consultation!