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JAMA 100 Years Ago
December 12, 2001


Author Affiliations

Copyright 2001 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2001American Medical Association

JAMA. 2001;286(22):2785. doi:10.1001/jama.286.22.2785-JJY10042-2-1

According to the ruling of the State Insurance Commission of Minnesota, general casualty indemnity companies may write contracts insuring physicians against loss from damage suits for malpractice. This is a new feature of insurance, but it seems to have become prominent elsewhere than in Minnesota. A test case in Massachusetts was the ground of the state official's decision; he is said to have expressed the opinion that such protection is needed not so much by inexperienced and unskilful physicians as by the best and most successful ones as a safeguard against blackmail. In some sections damage suits against physicians and hospitals have become so frequent that the practice of medicine, and more especially surgery, has become so perilous to the pocket that some good operators have thought of giving up practice. The general public has a natural prejudice in favor of an alleged injured person and many unjust verdicts have been given by juries. It has also been considered contrary to public policy to put any limitations to such prosecutions or even to permit insurance against them. It would, however, be still more against public policy to allow honest surgery to be discouraged by facilitating or encouraging blackmail, and this is what the popular prejudice tends to do. A surgical operation or the medical treatment of a case depends for success on too many contingencies beyond the personal control of the practitioner to make their outcome a certainty in any particular case. An unfortunate outcome is, therefore, as it was held in the Massachusetts decision, to be considered an accident in the absence of proof to the contrary, and therefore is legitimately insured against by a casualty insurance company. It is possible that this will be a more frequent recourse of physicians, especially surgeons in some sections, if malpractice suits continue as popular as they have been in the past. The question seems to have been a new one in Minnesota, and it is satisfactory that the supposed legal objections at first raised to this kind of insurance were found invalidated by good legal precedents. Would it be practicable and advisable for the state societies or the AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION to take up this work, and such profits as may accrue be kept in the profession, and not be allowed to outside companies?

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