Medical Malpractice... By the Numbers

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.”
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

65,000 to 200,000  The minimum annual number of deaths due to medical accidents, according to hospital records.  For comparison: The annual total of all other causes of accidental death is 98,000, of which 46,000 are from auto crashes and 11,000 are from workplace accidents.

25,000 to 120,000  The minimum number of the above deaths due to negligence. That is, deaths caused by medical malpractice each year.

0.8% to 1%  The percentage of hospital patients who become victims of malpractice.

2.9%  The percentage of victims of malpractice, as reflected in medical records, who file claims.

4:1  The ratio of injuries and deaths caused by malpractice in hospitals to that reflected in medical records. (In other words, many errors go unrecorded.) This means that the number of malpractice deaths and injuries is probably about four times that reflected in the numbers above.

4.8%  The percentage of physicians responsible for half of the malpractice claims filed in the U.S. Just 1.7% of physicians were responsible for 27.5% of all malpractice awards.

5%  The percentage of patients who are victims of malpractice who receive some payment through a negotiated settlement of the claim

1/3 of 1%  The percentage of patients who are victims of malpractice whose cases go to trial.

1/10 of 1%  The percentage of patients who are victims of malpractice who win a trial verdict in their favor.

70%  The percentage of malpractice awards reduced by the court.

1:4  The ratio of total malpractice premiums to total economic losses suffered by victims of malpractice. In other words: Doctors and hospitals avoid paying 80% of the economic harm their errors inflict on patients and their families.



Harvard Medical Practice Study, Patients, Doctors, and Lawyers: Medical Injury, Malpractice Litigation, and Patient Compensation in New York, the Report of the Harvard Medical Practice Study to the State of New York (1990).

Linda T. Kohn, Institute of Medicine, To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System (2000).

National Practitioner Data Bank.

Michael J. Saks, Medical Malpractice: Facing Real Problems and Finding Real Solutions, 35 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 693 (1994).

Michael J. Saks, Do We Really Know Anything About the Behavior of the Tort Litigation System—And Why Not?, 140 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1147 (1992).

Frank A. Sloan et al., Suing for Medical Malpractice (1993).

Neil Vidmar, Medical Malpractice and the American Jury (1995).

Neil Vidmar at al., Jury Awards for Medical Malpractice and Post-Verdict Adjustments of Those Awards, 48 De Paul L. Rev. 265 (1998).

Paul Weiler et al., A Measure of Malpractice: Medical Injury, Malpractice Litigation, and Patient Compensation (1993).

For further information contact: Michael Saks, Arizona State University, Box 877906, Tempe, Arizona 85287, [email protected], 480-727-7193.