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 deaths caused by medical malpractice each 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, why these preventable deaths happen, and what specific medical errors are typically involved.

Medical malpractice deaths per year stats.

Medical Errors & How 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 make medical errors (preventable error or errors), and a patient dies as a result. These are preventable – deaths that should not happen. They’re deaths that may warrant a medical malpractice claim and a wrongful death claim.

Some of the most common types of medical malpractice include:

  • Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. Failing to diagnose, or incorrectly diagnosing a condition can lead to improper treatment or no treatment at all, worsening the patient’s condition.
  • Failure to monitor a patient. Failing to check vital signs regularly, not responding to alarms, failing to monitor the progression of a condition – things like that.
  • Mistakes in surgery. For example; performing the wrong procedure, leaving medical instruments inside a patient, or negligently damaging the patient during surgery.
  • Anesthesia errors. Administering too much or too little anesthesia, or failing to recognize potential anesthesia complications are two examples of this.
  • Post-surgery negligence. This could mean failing to provide adequate care after a procedure, which leads to complications.
  • Accidents at the hospital. These can happen in a number of ways; errors in administering medication is one example of many.
  • Hospital deaths due to negligence. These are deaths that could have been prevented with proper care or procedures.
  • Hospital-acquired infections (HAI). These are infections a patient can get in a hospital, often due to unsanitary conditions or procedures.
  • Defective medical devices. When medical devices malfunction, or are improperly implanted, this can and often does lead to patient harm.
  • Birth injuries.Injuries to the baby or mother during labor and delivery, due to negligence.

Any of those forms of medical malpractice could lead to a patient’s death if the error is serious enough. The reason for a doctor’s negligence isn’t typically because they actively intend patient harm. 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. But at least those patients can seek justice. This is why medical malpractice cases are more important than ever.

Medical Error: Third Leading Cause 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 cancer and heart disease and AIDs were receiving far more media attention. Yet the number of 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. All due to negligent medical mistakes.

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

That said, Dr. John James – who devoted himself to crusading against medical errors after his son died due to substandard medical care – reveals yet another concerning number. His extensive studies show that in the American healthcare system, nearly half a million lives (440,000) are lost each year. All thanks to medical errors.

Which begs the question, how many is it really? How many medical malpractice deaths occur in our health care system each year?

There’s No Exact Count. 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 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 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 medical 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 allies, your medical records, evidence, and expert testimony. If you believe your family member passed away due to medical negligence, call us today, and take the first step in your medical malpractice case. Or, send us a message to request a free consultation here