The average physician spends 1,548 sleepless nights due to malpractice claims

The average physician spends over 10 percent of his or her career consumed in defense of an open malpractice claim. For the average neurosurgeon, that number is 25%—that’s a quarter of a career dealing with the intense emotional stress of defending your reputation and livelihood.sleepless nights

And the majority of those claims close with no payment to the plaintiff. That means the average U.S. physician in every specialty spends a significant portion of his or her career in court defending malpractice claims, but the overwhelming majority of those claims are found to be at best fruitless, and at worst frivolous.

These numbers come from a RAND Corporation objective analysis of the claims database of The Doctors Company, the nation’s largest physician-owned medical malpractice insurer. According to Richard E. Anderson, MD, FACP, chairman and CEO of The Doctors Company, these numbers show that our medical malpractice litigation system is broken—and must be fixed.

pending claim



Active litigation

Doctors face these claims on a regular basis. For example, nearly 20% of neurosurgeons report a claim every single year. That means if you’re an average neurosurgeon, you’ll have a claim every five years.

If you have five neurosurgeons who have been in practice for five years in a room together, it is very likely every one of them will have been sued. More than that, because it takes 3-4 years to close a claim, at any given time, 3 or 4 of them will be in active litigation.


More pressure on an already demanding profession

For doctors like David P. Michelin, MD, MPH, a gynecologic oncologist in Traverse City, Michigan, malpractice lawsuits have a significant impact on personal and professional relationships.

From the moment you’re sued, he says, “everything changes. The malpractice claim begins to affect all aspects of your life. You don’t sleep well. You don’t interact well with family members, friends, or colleagues. You remain dedicated to providing the best possible care, but you find yourself taking a more conservative approach with patients, asking yourself, ‘How might this patient attempt to sue me?’ Or, ‘If I were standing in front of a judge, what evidence would I need to defend what I’m doing?’ You know you did nothing wrong—that the claim against you is unreasonable—which only adds to your frustration and sense of injustice.”

Dr. Michelin faced two trials, spanning 2½ years, for a single claim. Although he was exonerated by the jury, it was only after a long period of uncertainty: “Because of the length of my litigation, this significantly impacted my family over two successive Christmases—times when I wasn’t really there for them emotionally.”

Learn the strategies Dr. Michelin used to cope with the stress of litigation and hear more about his trial experience:

This post was sponsored by The Doctors Company, the nation’s largest physician-owned medical malpractice insurer.

The Doctors Company
As the nation’s largest physician-owned medical malpractice insurer, The Doctors Company is fiercely committed to relentlessly defending, protecting, and rewarding their members with the industry’s most aggressive claims defense, unrivaled protection, and innovative rewards. Their mission—to advance, protect, and reward the practice of good medicine—inspires all that they do.


  1. I wonder the role that attorneys launching suits on percentage of claim might be playing.
    Going by the graph, doctors waste more time in contesting frivolous suits than lawyers.

  2. Well since 95 percent of malpractice is done by 10% of the Doctors just maybe some doctors should not be practicing and continue to hurt people.

    No minor mistakes are ever litigated as it takes $25,000 to $50,000 to litagate a malpractice claim.

    Finally doctors are only liable if the do not follow the standard of care. Meaning they can only be held liable if they fail to follow proper medical established procedure. Doctors are never libel just for a bad outcome.

    Maybe if doctors policed themselves better and stopped to below average doctors from hurting people we not have to worry about punishing a person who had the wrong leg removed or the wrong kidney removed because they had a below average Doctor.

  3. Data shows that communication failures are documented in 70–80% of legal depositions
    and malpractice suits. Physicians that don’t listen to patients or don’t try to understand patients as people … rather than as a disease … top the list of complaints people have with physicians. As busy as physicians are … if they paid more attention to what patients need and want … and no I am not talking about ordering unnecessary tests requested by patients … they would undoubtedly be able to sleep better at night. After all patients that trust and like their doctor are much less likely to sue them.

    Steve Wilkins

  4. So what about the victims that get sleepless nights till death? Provided they are even still alive.

    Maybe doctor’s should treat medical practice as a life or death issue.

  5. In my personal experience, surgery by a neurosurgeon left me with cauda equina syndrome because he lengthened my back surgery by 2 hours, using that time to jerk on my L4 to attempt to move it into place. I went from walking a block developing pain to having a useless right leg, and partial use of left leg. Mostly numb from the waist down, unable to urinate or have a bowel movement. My hemoglobin dropped from 14 to 7. He discharged me and said my insurance would not cover rehab.It took a yeasr of pain to find an orthopedic back surgeon who diagnosed my problem as caudia equina syndrome caused by the first back surgeon. The second surgeon free up the nerves that the other guy had pinched,but I also discovered on the records that I had gotten on my first surgery for the second surgeon, that the first surgeon had discharged me as walking well. The physical therapist also stated that I was walking around the unit. I cannot abide a liar, and all of the doctors St St.Joseph hospital in Pontiac, lied in their notes. I tried to sue the first surgeon but no lawyer would take the case, even though I went from walking to not walking. So, I think that the only doctors getting sued are innocent because I think lawyers are the problem and they take bull shit cases just to make a quick buck. I know of cases that should have bee sued on, besides my own, and no lawyer would do them.

  6. This is complete B.S. How much money do you think you will make as a lawyer taking frivolous cases? The truth is the vast majority of valid claims are never brought or lose to juries sympathetic to Doctors because of insurance company “studies” like this one. Moreover, many states have caps on damages for people hurt or killed by malpractice so they are denied full compensation even when they prevail. I am not going to lose a lot of sleep feeling sorry for doctors or insurance companies.


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