Updated July 12, 2023

How Often Does Medical Malpractice Occur?

Medical malpractice refers to instances where patients experience harm due to the negligence of healthcare professionals.  It includes various claims, such as surgical errors, hospital-acquired infections, and birth injuries. These stories are often filled with fear and sadness, as many patients may require long-term care or even lose their lives due to such treatments.

There is no standardized way for organizations to report malpractice. Therefore, it can be difficult to quantify exactly how often it occurs. While the statistics may vary significantly from one source to another, one undeniable fact remains: medical malpractice can have a devastating effect on patients’ long-term health and well-being. 

As a healthcare consumer, you can protect yourself by learning about medical malpractice: 

  • What constitutes malpractice?
  • Which healthcare providers are most likely to face malpractice lawsuits?
  • What are the most common types of malpractice? 
  • What should you do if you experience medical malpractice? 

What is Medical Malpractice? 

Medical malpractice happens when a provider, such as a doctor, fails to appropriately treat a patient, resulting in harm or even death. For a claim to constitute malpractice, it must meet four benchmarks: 


The patient must be able to prove that the doctor’s mistake directly caused harm to the patient. The patient’s adverse effect was not due to another condition or injury. 

Duty to the Patient

The patient must show that the healthcare provider was responsible for treating them. In other words, the patient must show that there was a doctor-patient relationship and that this particular provider failed to provide appropriate care.


Did the provider fail to provide adequate care? The patient must show that the provider acted outside the accepted standard of care. The standard of care refers to the actions that most reasonable providers would have taken. 


Finally, the court must decide whether the provider’s actions warrant monetary compensation. This compensation may cover medical bills, lost work, punitive damages, and compensation for loss or injury. 

This area of law can be confusing, and there are many times when a negative experience with a healthcare provider does not constitute malpractice. If you’re unsure whether your circumstance meets all the criteria for medical malpractice, contact a medical malpractice attorney at Wilson Kehoe Winingham for a free case evaluation. 

How Common Is Medical Malpractice?

By examining several studies concerning medical malpractice statistics, you can get an idea of how often medical malpractice occurs.

What Medical Professionals Can Be Sued for Malpractice?

While physicians are often associated with medical malpractice, it is important to note that other medical professionals can also face such lawsuits. Patients can also sue the following types of professionals for medical malpractice:

  • Physician’s Assistants and Nurse Practitioners 
  • Nurses
  • Technicians and medical assistants
  • Therapists
  • Dentists
  • Pharmacists
  • Social Workers
  • Midwives

What Specialties Are Sued Most Often?

In a 2016 survey by the American Medical Association, over one-third of physicians were sued for medical malpractice, with nearly half facing two or more lawsuits. According to the AMA’s Benchmark 2016 survey, Obstetrics and Gynecology is the specialty with the highest number of medical malpractice lawsuits. A staggering 63.6% of OBGYNs faced lawsuits; 44.1% experienced two or more lawsuits. 

General surgeons closely followed, as 63.2% had been sued, with an astounding 50.1% facing two or more lawsuits. 

Emergency medicine ranked as the third highest specialty, with 51.7% of these doctors facing lawsuits and 25.7% being sued two or more times. 

Most Common Types of Allegations

A 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association characterized paid medical malpractice claims by medical specialty. Between 1992 and 2014, the three most common types of allegations were as follows:

  • Diagnosis errors: 31.8% (35,349 of 111,066 claims)
  • Errors related to surgery: 26.9% (29,861 of 111,066 claims)
  • Medication or treatment errors: 24.5% (27,153 of 111,066 claims)

The researchers also found that while the rate of all claims declined by 55.7%, the mean payment increased by 23.3%, and the percentage of claims exceeding $1 million increased by 1.8%.

Examples of Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice cases range in severity from negligent oversights to catastrophic errors. The three most common types of malpractice errors include: 

  • Diagnostic Errors. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that diagnostic errors are the “most common, most catastrophic, and most costly of medical mistakes.” Their research reveals that the majority of diagnostic errors, as classified by the “Big 3” categories, include misdiagnosed cancers (37.8 percent), vascular events (22.8 percent), and infections (13.5 percent).   
  • Surgical Errors. When a doctor fails to follow the accepted standard of care during surgery, they may make a surgical error.
  • Medication Error. Administering an inappropriate prescription to a patient results in a medication error. Depending on the case, this error may be the fault of the physician or the pharmacist.

What Is The Difference Between Medical Malpractice and Medical Negligence?

Medical malpractice and medical negligence are terms that are often used interchangeably. Medical negligence occurs when a provider fails to provide appropriate treatment. In order to make a medical malpractice claim, the patient must be able to show that the provider acted with negligence and that this negligence caused them harm. 

What are “Never Events,” and How Common Are They?

In 2001, Dr. Ken Kizer introduced the term “Never Events” to describe medical errors that are so shocking that they should never happen.   

These events include grievous errors such as:

  • Wrong-site surgery: operating on the incorrect body part (e.g., left arm instead of right arm) 
  • Performing surgery on the wrong patient
  • Wrong donor sperm or egg used in artificial insemination  
  • Failing to communicate diagnostic results with the patient, resulting in injury or death

While “Never Events” do not happen often, their impact on patients can be devastating. Surgical malpractice statistics often provide significant data on these events. 

How Often Do Medical Errors Lead to Fatalities?

One of the first publications concerning patient safety was the Institute of Medicine’s 1999 report called To Err is Human. This study estimated that 44,000 to 98,000 deaths annually in the United States could be attributed to medical errors.

In 2016, researchers at Johns Hopkins conducted a more recent study examining medical malpractice data from 2000 to 2008. The study revealed the following medical errors statistics:

  • Medical error is the cause of 10% of all deaths in the United States
  • Medical error is the third-highest cause of death in the United States
  • More than 250,000 deaths per year in the United States are due to medical error
  • The Johns Hopkins and Institute of Medicine statistics focus only on fatalities—they do not even consider the larger amount of nonfatal injuries caused by medical errors.

Why Is It Difficult to Track Medical Malpractice?

In the US, medical malpractice statistics are difficult to track. Many states need a mandatory system or standard practices for reporting medical malpractice. Statistics on medical malpractice are only sometimes complete. 

However, regardless of the precise total calculations, many patients suffer annually due to medical negligence and malpractice. 

When someone experiences medical malpractice, it can have a lasting impact on their finances, long-term health, and quality of life. Many medical errors are preventable and may constitute malpractice. 

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney Today

If you or a loved one have experienced an injury due to medical malpractice, contact the Indianapolis Medical Malpractice Attorneys of Wilson Kehoe Winingham. The lawyers at WKW can help you and your family get the compensation you need to help rebuild your life. Complete an online contact form or give us a call for a free, no-obligation case evaluation.

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