HISTORICAL AND SOCIAL BACKGROUND
This book is about people involved in medical malpractice claims and the uncertainty inherent in medical practice. The problem of medical malpractice claims is like an iceberg: the bulk is hidden beneath the surface, and the visible portion is the few sensational cases covered in the media. As the practice of medicine becomes more scientific and effective, it also becomes less certain as new procedures add new risks, setting the stage for an increase in the rate of claims. Because malpractice is difficult to establish in most of the interviews conducted, this book focuses on malpractice claims. The great majority of malpractice claims are filed as civil rather than criminal cases. In order to win a malpractice suit in court, a plaintiff must demonstrate reasonably that the injury resulted directly from his or her medical treatment, and that the treatment deviated from standard medical practice.
Most studies of medical malpractice claims rely exclusively on statistical data--either insurance claims or surveys of patients and claimants. Such studies test hypotheses and describe the characteristics of claims, but they tell us little about the deeper meaning of this phenomenon. This book, although drawing on statistical studies, including my own, is based primarily on the in-depth, personal accounts of those involved in malpractice claims. The intent here is to show what it is like to undertake such a claim. The personal accounts that follow show how the claims shape and are shaped by the historical and social context of the late