Can You Tell Fact from Malpractice Fiction?

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. That seems to be the rallying cry in too many medical-legal quarters. So once again, we offer a short quiz to separate the truth from what some people only wish was true about medical malpractice, courtesy of the civil justice website PopTort.

1. Medical malpractice case filings represent what percent of new civil cases filed in U.S. courts?

a. 25%
b. 12%
c. 5%
d. Less than 1%

(d) is the correct answer. According to the most recent data from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), in 2012 medical malpractice case filings represented well under 1% of all incoming civil cases and less than 7% of incoming tort cases (negligence and intentional wrong cases that result in harm) in the courts of eight states reporting.

2. True or False: State-enacted “caps” on noneconomic damages (that is, limits on the amount of judgments) reduce the costs of so-called “defensive medicine” such as diagnostic imaging (MRIs, CT scans, etc.)


After analyzing data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, researchers found that imaging costs did not drop in states with medical malpractice noneconomic damages (NED) caps. In fact, “imaging costs in some of the states that cap NED payouts were among the highest in the nation.”

For example, “California, a state with NED tort reform,” PopTort reported, “was ranked among the most costly for imaging”; charges there for a level I diagnostic and screening ultrasound was 36% higher than for all states, and over the past decade its imaging charges have increased by 400%, despite the NED tort reform.

3. How many surgeries are done each year on the wrong body part?

a. 50 b. 100 c. 250 d. 500
(d). Few things are more egregious or preventable than operating on the wrong body part. Yet according to a comprehensive data review published in JAMA Surgery, every year an estimated 500 surgeries are performed on the wrong body part and 5,000 surgical items unintentionally are left in patients’ bodies. In addition, 46% to 65% of adverse events in hospitals are related to surgery.

4. The Leapfrog Group, which scores hospital safety, says “patient safety should be Job No. 1 in every hospital.” What percent of hospitals does Leapfrog award an C, D or F “patient safety” grade?

a. 5%
b. 18%
c. 25%
d. 40%

(d. “[P]erformance on safety outcomes – including preventing errors, accidents and infections – has not significantly improved,” according to Leapfrog; 40% of the 2,523 hospitals analyzed received a C, D or F grade.

5. True or False: Most hospital executive boards consider patient safety a top concern.


According to the New York Times, “In general, hospital boards do not view themselves as institutional champions of quality…. Only half of boards view clinical quality as one of their top two concerns. In contrast, financial performance was a top priority for about three-quarters of hospital boards.”

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