Effect of fear of litigation on obstetric care: a nationwide analysis on obstetric practice

Am J Perinatol. 2011 Apr;28(4):277-84. doi: 10.1055/s-0030-1271213. Epub 2011 Jan 19.


The aim of our study was to investigate the influence of malpractice premiums paid by obstetricians on obstetric care across the United States. We conducted a retrospective cross-sectional population-based study using patient-level data obtained from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project-Nationwide Inpatient Sample on every woman who delivered in 2006. Mode of delivery was compared with the average state medical liability insurance premium paid by obstetricians (Medical Liability Monitor and the National Association of Insurance Commissioners) using a generalized estimating equation to calculate crude and adjusted odds ratios. Our cohort included 890,266 women who delivered across 37 states in 2006. Average state malpractice premium of over $100,000 was associated with higher incidences of total cesarean deliveries (odds ratio [OR] 1.17, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.02, 1.35); lower incidences of vaginal births after cesarean deliveries (OR 0.60, 95% CI: 0.37, 0.98); and lower rates of instrumental deliveries (OR 0.72, 95% CI: 0.63, 0.83) compared with when the average state malpractice premium was less than $50,000. Fear of litigation appears to have a marked effect on obstetric practice, particularly total cesarean delivery, vaginal birth after cesarean, and instrumental delivery, when malpractice premiums rise above $100,000 per annum.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cesarean Section / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Defensive Medicine / economics*
  • Extraction, Obstetrical / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Liability / economics*
  • Liability, Legal / economics*
  • Obstetrics / economics*
  • Obstetrics / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Odds Ratio
  • Pregnancy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States
  • Vaginal Birth after Cesarean / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult