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Medicine and Public Policy |

Characteristics of Potential Plaintiffs in Malpractice Litigation

LaRae I. Huycke, RN; and Mark M. Huycke, MD
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From the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Requests for Reprints: Mark M. Huycke, MD, Infectious Diseases (111C), Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 921 N.E. 13th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73104. Acknowledgments: The authors thank Eric Felber, BA, for help with researching and Mark A. Wolfe, JD, for reviewing the manuscript.

Copyright ©2004 by the American College of Physicians

Ann Intern Med. 1994;120(9):792-798. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-120-9-199405010-00011
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Objective: To characterize patients calling plaintiff attorneys' offices and claiming to have suffered injury caused by medical negligence.

Design: Telephone interviews with an inception cohort of callers to law firms with malpractice complaints before the callers talk to attorneys.

Setting: Six law offices in five states.

Participants: 502 of 730 callers over 10 randomly selected days in 1991.

Measurements: Demographics of potential plaintiffs, types of health care providers named by callers, factors prompting calls, economic and noneconomic motivations for claims, and disposition of claims.

Results: An average of 12 calls per office per day were received by law firms concerning malpractice complaints. Many factors affected patients' decisions to call: poor relationships with providers before an injury (53%); television advertising by law firms (73%); explicit recommendations by health care providers to seek legal counsel (27%); impressions of not being kept informed or appropriately referred by providers; and financial concerns (for example, 36% with earned income and outstanding medical bills had bills equaling or exceeding 50% of their annual income, 33% were unemployed, and 31% lacked health insurance). One in 30 calls led to the filing of a lawsuit.

Conclusions: Calls to plaintiff law firms by patients are common, are motivated by diverse factors, represent dissatisfaction with modern health care, and infrequently lead to lawsuits.


Grahic Jump Location
Figure 1.
Interval between alleged injury and contact with law firms for potential plaintiffs.
Grahic Jump Location




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