New Study Finds Primary Care Malpractice Harder to Defend

Whitney Taylor | October 7th, 2013

Primary Care MalpracticeA new study found that although primary medical malpractice makes up a small percentage of malpractice cases nationwide, they may be the most problematic for healthcare providers. Researchers discovered that primary care malpractice cases were much more likely to end in settlement or a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff compared to other types of malpractice lawsuits.

The study was conducted by researchers at the Center for Patient Safety Research and Practice at Harvard Medical School. Researchers looked at closed claims data from two Massachusetts malpractice carriers between the years of 2005 and 2009. The malpractice claims involving physicians insured by these companies were screened, with 551 claims identified for the purpose of this analysis.

Primary care malpractice cases don’t bode well for defendants

Researchers found that those 551 primary care malpractice claims comprised around seven percent of the total malpractice claims filed. More than one-third of those cases were settled, as opposed to around 20 percent of other malpractice cases. The cases that went to trial were also more likely to favor the plaintiff in the final outcome.

The large majority of malpractice claims involving primary care involved allegations regarding errors with diagnosis. This study follows previous studies that have found diagnosis to be a primary reason for malpractice lawsuits. In July, research published in the BMJ Open found that missed diagnosis accounted for between 26 percent to 63 percent of all malpractice claims filed. Sadly, death was the most common consequence of these missed diagnoses filings, accounting for as many as 48 percent of these cases, according to CBS News.

Other reasons for primary care malpractice claims included medication errors (12.3%), other types of medical treatment (7.4%), communication (2.7%), patient rights (2%), and patient safety (1.5%). The July study also found medication errors to be the second most common cause of medical malpractice, with administration of steroids, antibiotics, anticoagulants and antidepressants topping the list for those mistakes.

This study takes the analysis a step further, finding that when those claims were filed against primary care providers, the case appeared to be harder for the provider to defend. In many cases, the error may have been due to a breakdown in office operations, which might miss an update on a medical history, the order of an additional test, or a follow-up with a patient. The good news, according to a report on the study at Medscape, is that there are ways to lower these risks by ramping up office processes.

New York medical negligence lawyers

Unfortunately, medical malpractice does happen, at both the primary care and other levels of patient care and treatment. According to the American Association for Justice, preventable medical errors account for 98,000 deaths in the United States every year. When malpractice occurs, the results can be debilitating and even deadly for the patient and family.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice in New York, help is available. The Sanders Firm has more than 45 years of experience litigating malpractice cases for patients who have been injured at the hands of a health care provider. Whether you live in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Long Island, or Manhattan, our attorneys are available to help you protect your rights and pursue legal compensation for your injuries. Call toll-free at 1.800.FAIR.PLAY for a free evaluation of your case.


  1. JAMA Network, Primary Care Closed Claims Experience of Massachusetts Malpractice Insurers, http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1741891

  2. Medscape, Primary Care Malpractice Cases “More Difficult to Defend,” http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/811898

  3. American Association for Justice, Medical Negligence: The Role of America’s Civil Justice System in Protecting Patients’ Rights, http://www.justice.org/resources/Medical_Negligence_Primer.pdf

  4. CBS News, Most Common Medical Malpractice Claims for Missed Cancer, Heart Attacks, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57594570/most-common-medical-malpractice-claims-for-missed-cancer-heart-attacks/