The Medical Malpractice Explosion: An Empirical Assessment of Trends, Determinants, and Impacts

Michael J. Trebilcock, Donald N. Dewees, David G. Duff

Research output: Article


This article briefly describes trends in the frequency and severity of medical malpractice claims in Canada and the U.S., with some comparative references to trends in Britain and Australia. In all cases, frequency and severity rates appear to have risen quite dramatically over the past decade and a half. The article proceeds to explore various hypotheses that might explain these trends. While empirical analysis does not yield firm conclusions, the fact that so many jurisdictions have experienced a somewhat similar phenomenon makes it doubtful that the primary cause of the increase is likely to be idiosyncratic features of one particular country's tort system. Instead, the authors conjecture that various changes in medical technology may well be a more important explanatory factor. The article goes on to examine the empirical evidence on the impact of expanding liability on physician behaviour and in turn whether observed changes in physician behaviour have caused reductions in the medical injury rate. While it seems clear from the evidence that the liability system has 'induced various changes in physician behaviour, it is much less clear whether these changes have reduced the medical injury rate or are otherwise socially desirable.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
JournalAll Faculty Publications
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 1990

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