On Average, Physicians Spend Nearly 11 Percent of Their 40-Year Careers with an Open, Unresolved Malpractice Claim

Published in: Health Affairs, v. 32, no. 1, Jan. 2013, p. 111-119

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2013

by Seth A. Seabury, Amitabh Chandra, Darius N. Lakdawalla, Anupam B. Jena

Research Question

  1. How quickly are medical malpractice claims resolved?

The US malpractice system is widely regarded as inefficient, in part because of the time required to resolve malpractice cases. Analyzing data from 40,916 physicians covered by a nationwide insurer, we found that the average physician spends 50.7 months—or almost 11 percent—of an assumed forty-year career with an unresolved, open malpractice claim. Although damages are a factor in how doctors perceive medical malpractice, even more distressing for the doctor and the patient may be the amount of time these claims take to be adjudicated. We conclude that this fact makes it important to assess malpractice reforms by how well they are able to reduce the time of malpractice litigation without undermining the needs of the affected patient.

Key Findings

  • The average physician spends nearly 11 percent of an assumed forty-year career with an unresolved, open malpractice claim.
  • The long time it takes for a case to be resolved is distressing for both doctor and patient.


  • Malpractice reforms also need to focus on the time required to resolve claims.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.