1 in 3 physicians sued during career, with radiologists ‘significantly’ more likely to face litigation

About 1 in 3 physicians are sued over their course of their career, with radiologists “significantly” more likely to face litigation, according to new data from the American Medical Association.

For most docs, it’s “only a matter of time” before they’re taken to court. Typically, the longer a radiologist or other specialist is in practice, the more likely they can expect to be served, experts noted. Over 40% of radiologists said they’ve been sued during their career, according to AMA survey data, while 4.2% of rads said they were named in a complaint during the previous year.

“General surgeons, other surgeons, OB/GYNs, orthopedic surgeons, radiologists and emergency medicine physicians are the specialties whose physicians are significantly more likely to have been sued recently than general internists (the reference group),” according to the analysis, published on Wednesday, May 10.

Between 2020-2022, there were about 66 claims filed per 100 radiologists, and a total of 254 lawsuits across the specialty, the AMA reported. About 30.8% of radiologists under 55 said they’ve been sued during their career, which leapt to 52.1% for those older than that age.

Female physicians faced lower liability risk than men, the AMA noted. About 23.8% of women in medicine said they’ve been sued versus 36.8% of men. Among female doctors, 42 per 100 experience a claim compared to 75 per 100 for males.

The American Medical Association said it continues working with state and specialty medical associations hoping to spur liability reforms. Its goal is to “strike a reasonable balance” between the needs of patients who have experienced harm while also helping to keep down the overall costs of care.

“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,” AMA President Jack Resneck Jr., MD said in an announcement. “When physicians are sued, two-thirds of civil liability claims are dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn without a finding of fault,” he added later. “When claims proceed to trial and are decided by a verdict, the defendants prevail in nearly 9 out 10 cases.”

The AMA said its Benchmark Survey included a nationally representative sample of physicians who provide at least 20 hours of patient care per week. Respondents also completed their residency, were not employed by the federal government and practice in the U.S. Data were collected in 2022, with 3,500 physicians completing the survey.

Marty Stempniak

Marty Stempniak has covered healthcare since 2012, with his byline appearing in the American Hospital Association's member magazine, Modern Healthcare and McKnight's. Prior to that, he wrote about village government and local business for his hometown newspaper in Oak Park, Illinois. He won a Peter Lisagor and Gold EXCEL awards in 2017 for his coverage of the opioid epidemic. 

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