Medical Malpractice Deaths Per Year

Do you know the leading causes of death in the U.S.? The first is heart disease, the second is cancer. What’s the third? According to some sources, it’s “medical errors”, thanks to the high amount of medical malpractice deaths per year.

Does this surprise you? You’re not alone. It doesn’t make sense for medical treatment to be a leading cause of death. In this post, we’ll dive into what medical malpractice is, and why medical malpractice deaths happen.

Medical malpractice deaths per year stats.

How Do Medical Malpractice Deaths Happen?

No one heads to the hospital thinking, “I bet I’ll get worse after doctors start treating me.” We assume we’re going to walk out with a clean bill of health. Or at least an improved one. 

Most doctors don’t plan on patients getting worse or passing away after treatment either. But it happens. Sometimes it’s because the patient sought treatment too late. Other times, it’s because a doctor committed an error. 

Medical malpractice deaths happen when medical professionals mess up and a patient dies as a result.  Some of the most common types of medical malpractice include:

  • Medication errors 
  • Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
  • Failure to monitor a patient
  • Mistakes in surgery
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Post-surgery negligence
  • Accidents at the hospital
  • Hospital-acquired infections (HAI)
  • Defective medical devices 
  • Birth injuries 

Any of those could lead to a patient’s death if the error is serious enough. The reason for a doctor’s negligence isn’t always because they intend to harm a patient. Sometimes medical malpractice deaths occur because hospitals are short-staffed. Other times it’s because the hospital failed to train personnel properly. 

Whatever the reason, it’s not a good excuse. Getting treatment for a medical condition should not be one of the leading causes of death. 

Surprising Estimates for Medical Malpractice Deaths 

Back in 1999, the Institute of Medicine published a report that attributed 98,000 deaths per year to malpractice. Back then, death from illnesses like breast cancer and AIDs were receiving far more media attention. Yet the number of medical malpractice deaths was higher than those causes. 

1999 was many years ago. Surely patients are getting better treatment now, right? Wrong. Medical negligence is still an epidemic in the U.S. healthcare system. In 2012, the Journal of Patient Safety said that medical errors cause 210,000 to 440,000 deaths per year. 

That’s a very wide estimate. But even if the actual number is closer to 210,000, that’s still more than the number of deaths attributed to diseases like diabetes and stroke. 

Now let’s take a look at more recent research from 2016. Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, led a study that concluded the following:

  • The number of medical malpractice deaths per year is approximately 251,000.
  • This number put medical error as the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

There’s No Exact Count of Medical Malpractice Deaths Per Year. Why?

Below, you’ll see the CDC’s list of the leading causes of death from 2021:

  1. Heart disease: 695,547
  2. Cancer: 605,213
  3. COVID-19: 416,893
  4. Accidents (unintentional injuries): 224,935
  5. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 162,890
  6. Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 142,342
  7. Alzheimer’s disease: 119,399
  8. Diabetes: 103,294
  9. Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis: 56,585
  10. Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 54,358

You’ll notice medical malpractice isn’t there. That’s because it’s not included in the CDC’s reporting standards. There’s no box to check that says “medical error” when a hospital reports a patient’s death. Even if there were, most doctors wouldn’t admit that an error caused a patient’s death. 

This is why it’s hard to calculate the exact number of medical malpractice deaths per year. But if medical errors take around 251,000 lives, as per the 2016 estimate, it would be the fourth top cause of death. 

That being said, 251,000 is likely a low estimate. The number may actually be much higher. The CDC needs to make it mandatory for doctors and hospitals to report malpractice-related deaths. Until that happens, we won’t have an exact count. 

Couple mourns victim of medical malpractice.

Legal Help for Medical Malpractice Deaths

When a loved one passes away from a medical error, you want the doctor to take responsibility. You want the hospital to answer for providing sub-par treatment. 

Sadly, hospitals are reluctant to report mistakes. Doctors don’t want to admit they messed up. Insurance companies often try to force hurting families to accept measly settlements and stay quiet. 

Holding hospitals accountable is difficult. But it’s not impossible with the right ally. If you believe your loved one passed away due to medical negligence, call us today. Or, send us a message to request a free consultation here