Most physicians’ perception of their threat of malpractice is based on three factors: the risk of a claim, the probability of a claim leading to a payment, and the size of the payment.
- Pediatricians are not sued as frequently as other specialists. Only 3.1% of pediatricians face a malpractice claim in a given year compared to 19.1% of neurosurgeons, the highest specialty.
- One in five pediatric malpractice claims results in some form of indemnity payment (settlement or award).
- The severity of pediatrics claims is high compared to other specialties. Even though neurosurgeons are several times more likely to be sued, their average malpractice payment is $344,000, compared to that for pediatricians, $521,000. Although payments in excess of $1 million are rare (less than 1% of all payments), the specialties most commonly accounting for those payments are obstetrics/gynecology, pathology, anesthesiology, and pediatrics.
For these reasons having adequate and continuous medical liability insurance coverage is essential. Even if employers pay for the medical liability insurance, pediatricians need to understand what is and isn’t covered and what happens after their employment ends (is tail insurance necessary and if so, who pays for it).
Don’t Assume that All Legal Obligations End on Retirement
A common myth held by many physicians is that they no longer need to respond to subpoenas, answer complaints filed with the medical board because they have retired. These obligations do not end after you stop practicing. For example, if a retired physician receives a subpoena for medical records, the or she must respond to it. No exception for “retired person” to the rules of discovery in lawsuits exists. Should any of those events transpire, the physicians should consult counsel. Prior to that they should have ascertained how long they should keep medical records after they retire. If the physician arranged for a medical record custodianship arrangement with a third party, it is important to specify in the contract how long the custodian will retain those records and that they will respond should there be a request for medical records. Retired physicians should also consider putting their medical license on “retired” or “inactive” status, or consider letting it lapse altogether. In most states, the medical board doesn’t have jurisdiction over nonlicensees. However, it is vital that a physician have medical malpractice coverage simply because a plaintiff can still sue a retired physician. Verify your medical liability coverage with your malpractice insurer before you retire.