Pathology Of Mistakes And How To Avoid Litigation

April 27, 2015

 It may come as a surprise that pathologists lose more medical malpractice jury trials than any other single group of medical specialists.


When you consider that a staggering 61 percent of all doctors over the age of 55 report having been subject to at least one claim in their careers, all pathology practice groups and hospitals should consider implementation of effective risk management strategies and training to reduce the risk of claims and maximize the chance of a successful outcome when one does occur.


In fact, according to one study by the Archives of Internal Medicine of all specialties, pathologists also achieved the lowest success rate of obtaining a complete dismissal of claims prior to trial. As a result, pathologists actually go to jury trial on claims filed at a 40-percent higher rate (7.4%) than the national average (4.5%).


The vast majority of pathologist who responded (95.2%) to one study reported having been involved with a pathology error. A surprising 43.6% reported involvement with a serious error; 69.1% reported involvement with a minor error, and 77.6% reported involvement with a near miss. American Journal of Clinical Pathology, 135, 760-765 (2011).


A recent study of anatomic pathologists and clinical laboratory directors found pathologists believed that errors occurred frequently among hospitalized patents. The study found pathologists believe 3% of patients experience a serious error; 12% of patients experience a minor error, and 15% of patients experience a near miss.Id. at 760-765.


Pathologists disagree about the cause of medical errors. The study reported 55.2% believed errors were caused by care delivery systems, and 44.8% believed were caused by individual error. ld. at 760-765.


Despite these percentages, a surprisingly number (24.7%) of pathologists in the study did not know whether a formal error reporting system – such as an incident reporting or patient safety program – existed within their organization. More surprising, 28.2% affirmatively stated they believed no formal hospital reporting system was available to them. Id. at 760-765.


Pathologists face serious consequence when involved in medical errors. The implementation of effective risk management programs and use of pre-claims assistance provided by the pathologist's insurance carrier can make the difference between a manageable event and a career-ending claim.


Timothy B. Soefje is a Managing Member and heads the professional liability practice at Seltzer │Chadwick │Soefje, PLLC, a boutique firm in Dallas, Texas. Mr. Soefje devotes his practice to the representation of architects, engineers, lawyers and other professionals involved in large, complex professional negligence, catastrophic personal injury, and commercial litigation claims. He also serves as a consultant with OmniSure Consulting Group, LLC, an industry leader in risk management solutions. For more information, contact Mr. Soefje at

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