Study says most doctors win litigation, but few go to trial

Not all specialties are the same when it comes to the likely outcome of a malpractice case, according to a new study.

Internists and internal medicine subspecialists are more likely than other physicians to have suits against them dismissed by courts, according to the study from the Archives of Internal Medicine. The study found that 62% of suits against internists and internal medicine subspecialists were dismissed, while only 37% of cases against pathologists were dismissed, which was the lowest rate among specialties. The average across all specialties was 54% of cases dismissed.

The authors noted that the lower rate of dismissals for pathology could be because pathology lawsuits generally relate to failure to diagnose a disease.

The authors examined more than 10,000 claims that closed between 2002 and 2005 from an undisclosed national medical liability insurer. They found that the frequency of claims ending in a trial verdict was low across specialties. Only 2% of cases against anesthesiologists ended with a jury decision, and only 7% of claims against pathologists ended with a jury decision.

Internists also were among the least likely to face a jury, with only 3% of their cases ending with a verdict. General surgeons were most likely to have a jury find in their favor, while pathologists lost the most.

Eighty percent of cases resolved after trial were in favor of physicians. Nevertheless, doctors spend significant time fighting lawsuits. The average resolution time for a litigated claim was 25 months. For cases that ended in dismissals, doctors spent 20 months defending the case, while claims resolved at trial took 39 months.

The full study can be found at