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Characteristics of paid malpractice claims settled in and out of court in the USA: a retrospective analysis
  1. Jessica B Rubin1,
  2. Tara F Bishop2,3
  1. 1Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, USA
  2. 2Division of Outcomes and Effectiveness, Department of Public Health, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, USA
  3. 3Department of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Tara F Bishop; tlfernan{at}


Objective An analysis of paid malpractice claims judged in court compared with those settled out of court may help explain perceptions of malpractice risk.

Design A retrospective analysis and cross-sectional comparison of malpractice claims. Evaluated trends in the number and proportion of paid claims, and mean payment amount by resolution type; identified patient, physician and claim characteristics associated with each resolution type. Examined the effects of resolution type on payment amount and time to claim resolution.

Setting Claims paid on behalf of US physicians reported in the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) from 2005 to 2009.

Main outcome measures Type of resolution, claim characteristics, payment amount and time to resolution.

Results Between 2005 and 2009, there were 58 667 claims paid on behalf of US physicians. Of these paid claims, 56 850 (96.9%) were settled outside court, and 1817 (3.1%) were judged in court. There was no significant change in the proportion of paid claims resolved by settlement versus judgement over time (p=0.83); nor was there a significant change in the mean payment amount in either resolution group (settlement, p=0.94; judgement, p=0.36). The claims in which the physicians were under 50, had prior malpractice reports, which were paid by a state malpractice programme, for adverse events to a fetus, and for surgical or obstetric error were more likely to be judged in court. The mean payment amount (US$592 283 vs US$317 447, p<0.01), per cent of payments over US$1 million (41.82% vs 15.43%, p<0.01), and time to decision (6.50 years vs 4.93 years, p<0.01) were significantly higher in judged claims.

Conclusions Although only a very small percentage of paid malpractice claims in the USA are judged in court, a number of characteristics differ between settled and judged claims. Such differences may influence perceptions of malpractice risk and future reform efforts.

  • Medical Law

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