Understanding the First Malpractice Crisis of the 21st Century

32 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2003

See all articles by William M. Sage

William M. Sage

Texas A&M University School of Law


Although the notion that physicians owe a legal duty of competence to patients extends back hundreds of years, its public policy significance is of more recent vintage. Incorporating malpractice policy into overall health policy is made necessary by two related historical phenomena: the transformation of health care from a personal service to a complex series of industrial processes, and its simultaneous recognition as a public resource heavily funded and heavily regulated by government. This book chapter posits that the current malpractice crisis can best be understood as a product of these changes. Two principal lessons can be derived from this analysis. First, the current malpractice crisis - albeit a severe one - reflects the successes of modern medicine far more than its failures. Second, reform proposals that treat the current crisis as merely a reprise of the crises of the 1970s and 1980s misconstrue the problems affecting the established malpractice system and shortchange the range of possible solutions.

Suggested Citation

Sage, William Matthew, Understanding the First Malpractice Crisis of the 21st Century. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=477100 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.477100

William Matthew Sage (Contact Author)

Texas A&M University School of Law ( email )

1515 Commerce St.
Fort Worth, TX Tarrant County 76102
United States

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