How age, gender and medical specialty affect a physician's risk of being sued

New data from the American Medical Association reveal that nearly one-third of physicians in the United States have been sued during their medical career. 

The new analysis also indicates that there are several factors that contribute to a physician’s likelihood of being sued while practicing medicine, including age, medical specialty and gender.  

Of physicians age 55 and older, nearly half (46.8%) have been sued at some point. In comparison, this was the case in just 9.5% of those under the age of 40.  

Medical specialty also appears to play a large role in whether a patient will seek legal action against a provider. The report indicates that obstetricians/gynecologists (OB-GYNs), general surgeons, other surgeons and orthopedic surgeons are at the greatest risk of litigation, with 62.4%, 59.3%, 55.5% and 47.2% having already been sued at some point in their medical career. Allergists/immunologists and hematologists/oncologists recorded the lowest risk. 

Men are also more likely to face lawsuits; Based on the report, men recorded 75 claims per 100 physicians, while women represented a significantly lower proportion at 42 claims per 100 female physicians. Just under 25% of women included in the analysis reported being sued compared to 36.8% of men. 

While the report suggests that physicians—especially male surgeons over the age of 55—face serious risk of having a lawsuit filed against them, AMA President Jack Resneck Jr., MD, had some reassurance to offer providers. 

“Even the most highly qualified and competent physicians in the U.S. may face a medical liability claim in their careers, however, getting sued is not indicative of medical errors,” Resneck said in a release. "When physicians are sued, two-thirds of civil liability claims are dropped, dismissed or withdrawn without a finding of fault. When claims proceed to trial and are decided by a verdict, the defendants prevail in nearly 9 out 10 cases.” 

AMA’s Medical Liability Claim Frequency Among U.S. Physicians report can be viewed here

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In addition to her background in journalism, Hannah also has patient-facing experience in clinical settings, having spent more than 12 years working as a registered rad tech. She joined Innovate Healthcare in 2021 and has since put her unique expertise to use in her editorial role with Health Imaging.

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