A medical malpractice study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) showed that wrongful death as a result of medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. This study was published by a professor in the Department of Surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

This medical malpractice study relies on data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It cites one report from 1999 that shows wrongful death rates from medical errors occurring some where between 44,000-98,000 per year. Another Medicare report estimated that 575,000 deaths were caused by medical error between 2000 and 2002.

medical malpractice study - wrongful death 3rd leading cause of death in the US

Medical malpractice study showing that medical error is the third leading cause of death. Source: BMJ 2016

Another more-recent literature review shows that deaths range from 210,000-400,000 per year as a consequence of medical negligence. The authors believe, though, this rate underestimates the true number of medical deaths occurring in the United States.

The authors estimates show that on average, the following causes kill the most people in the United States:

  1. Heart Disease (611,000)
  2. Cancer (585,000)
  3. Medical Error (251,000)
  4. COPD (149,000)
  5. Suicide (41,000)
  6. Firearms (34,000)
  7. Motor vehicles (34,000)

This medical malpractice study goes on to suggest that there are several things, both at an individual medical provider level and at a hopsital/system level, that can be done to prevent these needless deaths. At the individual doctor level, the medical malpractice study suggests that knowledge of remedies to harm, increased clinical skill and judgment, and error awareness and asking for help can improve the incidence of wrongful death in the United States. At the institutional level, hospitals can institute safety triggers to alert staff and facilitate a culture of allowing their employees to bring errors to light.

Medical malpractice study highlights problems in our healthcare system

Medical errors cause serious injury and damage to families across the country. If you believe you or a family member have been injured by a medical error, you should contact a lawyer to see what your legal remedies are, if any.

Update: This study has been cited by numerous news outlets, including Bloomberg, USA Today, Washington Post, New York Times, LA Times, NPR, CNN, CBS, and ABC.