Characteristics of Medical Liability Claims Against Dermatologists From 1991 Through 2015 | Dermatology | JAMA Dermatology | JAMA Network
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Original Investigation
February 2018

Characteristics of Medical Liability Claims Against Dermatologists From 1991 Through 2015

Author Affiliations
  • 1Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 2University of California Davis School of Medicine, Davis
  • 3Department of Dermatology, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • 4Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Los Angeles, California
  • 5Horvitz & Levy LLP, Burbank, California
JAMA Dermatol. 2018;154(2):160-166. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.3713
Key Points

Question  What are the characteristics of medical professional liability claims against dermatologists, and how do they compare with claims against physicians in all specialties?

Findings  Analysis of malpractice data from a national registry revealed that improper performance of a procedure and misdiagnosis were the 2 most common medical errors associated with 1084 closed medical liability claims in dermatology and all fields of medicine. Dermatologists were responsible for a small proportion of all closed claims (1.2%) over the past decade.

Meaning  Enhancing dermatologists’ understanding of characteristics of malpractice claims can foster implementation of safeguards that improve patient care and potentially reduce malpractice liability.


Importance  Recognizing malpractice trends in the field of dermatology is important for establishing safeguards for patient care and minimizing liability. However, there is a lack of published data on malpractice claims against dermatologists.

Objective  To determine characteristics of medical professional liability claims in the field of dermatology and to compare these claims with those against all physicians.

Design, Setting, and Participants  We examined malpractice liability data collected on dermatologists and other physicians insured by companies that report data to the Physician Insurers Association of America Data Sharing Project (PIAA-DSP), a nationally representative liability claims registry. Data analyzed spanned the years 1991 through 2015.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Demographic characteristics of dermatologists subject to claims, characteristics of closed claims, medical errors associated with closed claims, and patient outcomes leading to closed claims.

Results  Data on a total of 90 743 closed claims were analyzed, 1084 (1.2%) against dermatologists and 89 659 (98.8%) against nondermatologists. More lawsuits were brought against male (n = 753, 69.5%) than female dermatologists (n = 270, 24.9%); 5.6% of claims (n = 61) did not identify the physician’s sex. Full-time practitioners (n = 1035, 95.5%) and those in solo practice (n = 600, 55.4%) were more likely to be sued than those in group practices (n = 429, 39.6%) and institutions (n = 31, 2.9%). Most claims against dermatologists were abandoned, withdrawn, or dismissed (n = 735, 67.8%). Between 2006 and 2015, trial verdicts favoring defendants exceeded trial verdicts favoring plaintiffs by a factor of 7. Errors that occurred during a procedure spawned the most claims (n = 305), of which 102 were paid. Misdiagnoses comprised the second-highest number of claims (n = 192), of which 62 were paid. The average recovery per claim was $238 145. The most common procedure leading to claims was skin operations (420 claims, of which 130 were paid). The most common adverse patient outcome associated with claims was dyschromia, resulting in 171 claims, of which 40 were paid.

Conclusions and Relevance  Male dermatologists were sued more often than female dermatologists. Overall, alleged errors in procedures and misdiagnosis gave rise to the most lawsuits. Dyschromia was the most common adverse outcome alleged in lawsuits.