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Plastic Surgery & Malpractice Lawsuits In The US & Canada

If you're a plastic surgeon in the US and you've been practicing for a while, the odds are good that you've been sued by a patient.

In the US there are about 95 medical liability claims filed for every 100 physicians—or almost one per doctor—and nearly 61% of physicians age 55 and older have been sued, according to a report released by the American Medical Association and based on a survey of 5,825 “non-federal patient care physicians” conducted in 2007 and 2008.  The survey, which included doctors practicing across 42 specialties, found that 42.2% of the respondents had a claim filed against them at some point, with more than 20% of physicians sued at least twice.

The most-sued specialties were obstetricians/gynecologists and general surgeons, with 69.2% of them being sued. (Psychiatrists were the least sued at 22.2%...  probably because they can use the Jedi mind tricks to mitigate their risk by keeping their patients happy.)

The study also found that 47.5% of male physicians had been sued, with 26.3% having been sued twice; and that 23.9% of female doctors had been sued and only 9.4% had been sued twice... andticdotal evidence that female physicians may be able to manage patient interactions better post treatment.

This brings up some of the interesting differences between practicing in the US and other countries. Certainly the US is letigious, perhaps the most country in the world. (If that's not the case, please comment.) I've posted before about how our Members outside the US can end up handling unhappy patients.

Read Learning From Physicians World Wide: Unhappy Patient? If You're In Mexico Just Call The Cops

In Canada under the single payer system, the numbers are dramatically different for a number of reasons, all of them economic. Between 2002 and 2006 the C.M.P.A. reports only 5246 lawsuits were filed against doctors in Canada: only about a 1000 claims per year.


First, In Canada, court awards are much lower than awards for similar injuries from courts in the United States. Cases that might be successful in the U.S. are simply not economically feasible to pursue in Canada.

Second, In Canada, most doctors are defended by a single organization, the Canadian Medical Protection Association (the C.M.P.A.) with a couple of billion of dollars in the bank that can be used to defend physicians. The C.M.P.A. reports it's success rate in defending claims brought against doctors. More than 3800 of the 5000 claims were dismissed or abandoned because the victim or their family quit or ran out of money, or died before trial.

The result? A couple of online articles on this subject express these stats: more than 5000 lawsuits filed against Canadian doctors, only two percent (2%) resulted in trial verdicts for the plantiff and for the few plantiffs who won at trial, the median damage award was only $95,500. Just try and get a US lawyer to go for that. (If you're a physician in Canada and you can clarify this, please leave a comment.)

There are advantages to being a physician in the US for sure, but there are also risks. The numbers are bigger on both ends.

Reader Comments (5)

My heart really goes out to you American doctors. I read the report and with numbers like that it becomes obvious why there is so much healthcare debate in the US. It does not sound reasonable or sustainable to me.

07.19 | Unregistered CommenterD Silva

Oie, this post brings back some uncomfortable and unwanted memories that I've tried very hard to suppress for the last five years. What was much more difficult than the actual suit was the stress that came with it. It's very hard to have your reputation attacked at this level and dealing with the insurance doesn't help since they seem to want to settle at the drop of a hat. It's all a numbers game for them. I'll also admit to some pangs of jealousy when I read that Canadian physicians have what amounts to a somewhat more helpful big brother type.

The malpractice tales of terror and woe never make the US look good. Of course, docs in the US do make more so there is some payment for the heightened risk... but I'd rather not have to run up the bill just to cover my ass.

12.18 | Unregistered CommenterCanuck Doc

I agree with Canuck Doc,
Today among European countries, Italy has the highest number of physicians subject to criminal proceedings related to medical malpractice, a fact that is profoundly changing physicians’ approach to medical practice. As in the United States, using the framework of fact-sensitive case law to determine damages and prescribe standards for medical malpractice on the basis of case law leads to confusing results, defensive physicians, and increased costs. The medical malpractice crisis in Italy will thus continue until legislative bodies decide to address this issue definitively.

@Malpractice Survivor,
I hear you brother. It's only survivors that can see just how badly the US medical system treats doctors. The Canadians are on to something there.

12.27 | Unregistered CommenterLemming MD

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