The Medical Malpractice Myth

The Medical Malpractice Myth

The Medical Malpractice Myth

The Medical Malpractice Myth


American health care is in crisis because of exploding medical malpractice litigation. Insurance premiums for doctors and malpractice lawsuits are skyrocketing, rendering doctors both afraid and unable to afford to practice medicine. Undeserving victims sue at the drop of a hat, egged on by greedy lawyers, and receive eye-popping awards that insurance companies, hospitals, and doctors themselves struggle to pay. The plaintiffs and lawyers always win; doctors, and the nonlitigious, always lose; and affordable health care is the real victim.

This, according to Tom Baker, is the myth of medical malpractice, and as a reality check he offers The Medical Malpractice Myth, a stunning dismantling of this familiar, but inaccurate, picture of the health care industry. Are there too many medical malpractice suits? No, according to Baker; there is actually too much medical malpractice, with only a fraction of the cases ever seeing the inside of a courtroom. Is too much litigation to blame for the malpractice insurance crisis? No, for that we can look to financial trends and competitive behavior in the insurance industry. Point by point, Baker- a leading authority on insurance and law- pulls together the research that demolishes the myths that have taken hold and suggests a series of legal reforms that would help doctors manage malpractice insurance while also improving patient safety and medical accountability.

The Medical Malpractice Myth is a book aimed squarely at general readers but with radical conclusions that speak to the highest level of domestic policymaking.


Medical malpractice premiums are skyrocketing. “Closed” signs are sprouting on health clinic doors. Doctors are leaving the field of medicine, and those who remain are practicing in fear and silence. Pregnant women cannot find obstetricians. Billions of dollars are wasted on defensive medicine. And angry doctors are marching on state capitols across the country.

All this is because medical malpractice litigation is exploding. Egged on by greedy lawyers, plaintiffs sue at the drop of a hat. Juries award eyepopping sums to undeserving claimants, leaving doctors, hospitals, and their insurance companies no choice but to pay huge ransoms for release from the clutches of the so-called “civil justice” system. Medical malpractice litigation is a sick joke, a roulette game rigged so that plaintiffs and their lawyers' numbers come up all too often, and doctors and the honest people who pay in the end always lose.

This is the medical malpractice myth.

Built on a foundation of urban legend mixed with the occasional true story, supported by selective references to academic studies, and repeated so often that even the mythmakers forget the exaggeration, half truth, and outright misinformation employed in the service of their greater good, the medical malpractice myth has filled doctors, patients, legislators, and voters with the kind of fear that short circuits critical thinking.

This fear has inspired legislative action on a nationwide scale three times in my lifetime. The first time was back in the mid–1970s. I remember sitting at the dinner table listening to my father report what he'd heard at his medical society meeting: “Medical malpractice insurance premiums are going through the roof. Frivolous litigation and runaway juries will drive doctors out of the profession.” The answer, the medical societies and . . .

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