Calamity in Context
This chapter discusses the term medical malpractice as it applies in the United States before providing a brief history of medical malpractice in human civilizations. Attention is then turned to a typology of alternative, modern national approaches to the issue of physician liability for patient injuries. Responses to malpractice are enmeshed with attitudes of the times and with national social characteristics. The ways in which we deal with medical malpractice reflect our culture while coincidentally shaping our social environment. Following the historical and typological surveys, a short introduction to important actors in the American medical malpractice scene--liability insurers and their reinsurers--is provided. These organizations have become critically important in the shaping of the American health care and liability scenes.
In the United States medical malpractice has been formally defined as: "bad, wrong, or injudicious treatment of a patient, professionally and in respect to the particular disease or injury, resulting in injury, unnecessary suffering, or death to the patient, and proceeding from ignorance, carelessness, want of proper professional skill, disregard of established rules or principles, neglect, or a malicious or criminal intent" ( Black Law Dictionary, cited in U.S. General Accounting Office, 1987f: 11). To this definition it is worth adding that some malpractice claims arise from a failure of the physician to