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Medical malpractice suits: Only 1 in 5 pay

Medical malpractice suits target 1 in 14 doctors every year. Average medical malpractice payout is $275,000.

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The study found:

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—About 7.5 percent of doctors have a claim filed against them each year. That finding is a little higher than a recent American Medical Association survey, in which 5 percent of doctors said they had dealt with amalpractice claim in the previous year.

—Fewer than 2 percent of doctors each year were the subject of a successful claim, in which the insurer had to pay a settlement or court judgment.

—Some types of doctors were sued more than others. About 19 percent of neurosurgeons and heart surgeons were sued every year, making them the most targeted specialties. Pediatricians and psychiatrists were sued the least, with only about 3 percent of them facing a claim each year.

—When pediatricians did pay a claim, it was much more than other doctors. The average pediatric claim was more than $520,000, while the average was about $275,000.

"Jurors' hearts cry out for injured patients, especially when kids are involved," Chandra said. The amount attached to a pediatric case also rises because many more years of suffering are involved than if the victim is middle-aged or elderly, experts said.

The study was funded by the RAND Institute for Civil Justice. Chandra also received funding from the National Institute on Aging, which has been interested in malpractice as a possible driver of health-care costs.

The study echoes earlier research on which specialists get sued most often, said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group.

"The thing that's disappointing about their study is they don't focus on what can be done to prevent people from being injured," said Wolfe, who has pushed for more aggressive policing of doctors by state medical licensing boards.