COMMENTARY

Your Malpractice Advisor: Lawsuit Risks in Urology

Ann W. Latner, JD

Disclosures

October 25, 2010

In This Article

Introduction

Urology ranks 12th out of 28 specialties in the number of malpractice claims reported and monies paid. So, although it's not one of the highest-risk specialties, the danger of being sued for malpractice is relatively significant. It has been estimated that most urologists will be sued at least twice in their professional careers.

Urologists may not get sued as often as other specialists, but the costs of obtaining malpractice insurance and the amounts awarded in lawsuits and settlements are steadily increasing. A 2003 study for the American Urological Association showed that one quarter of the 510 urologists surveyed reported that they had stopped providing certain services or procedures (including cystectomies, prostatectomies, and other high-risk surgeries) because of malpractice concerns. Forty percent of those polled also reported that they were referring complex cases to other physicians.

The Plaintiff's Case

For a physician to be found guilty of medical malpractice, 4 elements must be proven; without all 4 elements, the case will fail. The elements are (1) that the physician owed a duty to the patient, (2) the duty was breached, (3) the breach caused an injury, and (4) the injury resulted in damages. The breach generally consists of the physician failing to meet the standard of care; this is usually proven with expert testimony.

Of the many cases that are filed, very few actually go to trial. A national survey of urologists found that 47% of the time, cases are dropped or dismissed before trial. An additional one third of cases result in a financial settlement before trial. Of the cases that go to trial, the survey found that patients were successful only 3.5% of the time, compared with 14% for urologists.

Still, the best possible outcome would be to avoid a lawsuit in the first place. There are some ways to minimize this risk.

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