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August 16, 2000

The Past and Future of Medical Malpractice Litigation

Author Affiliations

Stephen J.LurieMD, PhD, Contributing EditorIndividualAuthorPhil B.FontanarosaMD, Executive Deputy EditorIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 2000;284(7):827-829. doi:10.1001/jama.284.7.827

To the Editor: Dr Mohr1 argues that 3 medical and 3 legal factors sustain medical malpractice litigation. I believe that an additional factor is the modern attitude that values litigation above other approaches to resolving disputes. Individual and institutional members of society are increasingly litigious as is evidenced by caseload data from the National Center for State Courts.2 Recent tobacco court cases demonstrate that the government also is suing its own citizens to resolve disputes instead of using the legislative process.

From 1984 to 1994, the number of cases filed for juvenile, domestic, criminal, and civil offenses increased by 59%, 65%, 35%, and 24% respectively.2 The total number of cases in 1994 for these 4 categories was more than 34 million and represented 13.75 cases per year per 100 citizens, assuming a total US population of 250 million.

At the same time (1984-1994), tort filings increased 20%, from 251,983 to 303,006.2 Besides medical malpractice, these tort cases included product liability, professional malpractice, toxic substances, premises liability, intentional injury, automobile crashes, and slander or libel.2 Again, the diversity of these lawsuits confirms the value that individual and institutional members of the society place on litigation.

I believe that these societal values are probably more important than the values described by Mohr in sustaining litigation in medical malpractice and in many other areas as well.

Mohr  JC American medical malpractice litigation in historical perspective.  JAMA. 2000;283:1731-1737.Google Scholar
National Center for State Courts, Caseload Highlights [serial online]. Available at: http://www.ncsc.dni.us/Research/CSP/csphigh.htm. Accessibility verified.