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Studies Show the Public Drastically Underestimates Prevalence of Medical Malpractice

October 27, 2014

There is a tendency among many to view the practice of medicine as an infallible science practiced by extremely skilled practitioners.  This perception is shaped by the high level of esteem with which most doctors are viewed, as well as the extensive education and training required to practice medicine.  While most physicians are skilled and conscientious, the risk of being a victim of medical malpractice is far more common than many people would think based on a recent article published by the American Association of Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America).

Although a study conducted by the Institute of Medicine indicated that 98,000 people per year die because of medical mistakes (and another recent study estimated the number at 440,000 people per year), those interviewed in the study estimated the number of annual fatalities caused by medical malpractice as being less than 5,000.  These numbers may reflect the near mythological belief in the “god-like power” of doctors given how these numbers contrast with the actual experience of patients.  Although patients tended to estimate fatal mistakes by medical professionals as only about five percent of the deaths they actually cause, one in three people in the survey indicated that a family member had been the victim of medical malpractice according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Further, one in five people involved in the Kaiser study reported that a relative had suffered serious medical problems or died as a result of medical malpractice.

This tendency to underestimate the likelihood of medical errors may deter those with viable claims from seeking compensation for their injuries or loss.  The cost of medical malpractice-related fatalities has been calculated at about $29 billion per year according to the Institute of Medicine.  However, the focus on reducing these costs by medical malpractice insurance carriers and the American Medical Association (AMA) often has focused on alternative dispute resolution, the cost of claims, increases in malpractice insurance premiums and the rising costs of medical care.  Unfortunately, the emphasis on these factors ignores the one factor that would have the greatest impact on reducing the cost associated with medical malpractice – reducing the number of incidents involving substandard medical care that harms patients.

The AMA and insurance industry have engaged in an effective public relations campaign designed to convince the public that incidents of medical malpractice are extremely rare but frivolous lawsuits against doctors are out of control.  However, there is a wealth of evidence indicating that the exact opposite is true.  Although many people believe the fiction that there are hundreds of thousands of medical malpractice lawsuits but merely a handful of actual medical errors, the reality is that there are very few medical malpractice lawsuits filed in relation to the estimated number of medical mistakes that cause harm to patients.  As University of Pennsylvania law professor Tom Baker explains, “We have an epidemic of medical malpractice not of malpractice lawsuits.”

If you or a family member has been the victim of substandard medical care that caused serious injury or the loss of a loved one, our Georgia medical malpractice attorneys at Montlick and Associates are available to provide effective legal representation to those throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast, including all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. 

No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333).  You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.