Patient safety and medical malpractice: a case study

Ann Intern Med. 2003 Aug 19;139(4):267-73. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-139-4-200308190-00009.


The system of tort liability for medical malpractice is frequently criticized for poorly performing its theoretical functions of compensating injured patients, deterring negligence, and dispensing corrective justice. Working from an actual malpractice case involving serious injury but no apparent negligence, the authors explore these criticisms from the perspectives of both the plaintiff-patient and the defendant-physician. They then examine the tort system through the lens of patient safety and conclude that the tensions between the system and patient safety initiatives suggest a need to reexamine our attachment to adversarial dispute resolution in health care. They propose targeted reforms that could improve the functioning of the system and create incentives to improve safety and quality.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Clinical Conference
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Malpractice*
  • Medical Errors*
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Care / standards*
  • Patient Care / trends