[Skip to Content]
[Skip to Content Landing]
July 17, 1991

Malpractice in Nineteenth-Century America: Origins and Legacy

JAMA. 1991;266(3):425-426. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03470030127042

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


"Dramatic advances in several areas of medicine" that have created unrealistically high expectations among patients and blurry standards of care, and an "ongoing erosion of traditional community customs" that has encouraged patients to challenge their physicians in court, are fundamental explanations for the wave of litigation that has "disrupted professional relations, injured individual reputations, and burdened physicians with legal fees and damage awards." So what else is new? Well, these observations certainly are not-they are used by the author, Kenneth A. De Ville, PhD, to describe the socioeconomic and political milieu in the United States in the 1830s and 1840s that led to an epidemic increase in medical malpractice cases 150 years ago! As Dr De Ville succinctly states, "The notion of medical malpractice suits as an essentially twentieth-century phenomenon is false."

This is a fascinating and unique book that sheds much light and provides valuable insight for physicians today