Document Type

Article

Publication Date

9-2012

Keywords

Medical malpractice, Defensive medicine, Caesarean sections, Non-economic damage cap

Disciplines

Health Law | Medical Jurisprudence | Torts

Abstract

Using data on physician behavior from the 1979–2005 National Hospital Discharge Surveys (NHDS), I estimate the relationship between malpractice pressure, as identified by the adoption of noneconomic damage caps and related tort reforms, and certain decisions faced by obstetricians during the delivery of a child. The NHDS data, supplemented with restricted geographic identifiers, provides inpatient discharge records from a broad enough span of states and covering a long enough period of time to allow for a defensive medicine analysis that draws on an extensive set of variations in relevant tort laws. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, I find no evidence to support the claim that malpractice pressure induces physicians to perform a substantially greater number of cesarean sections. Extending this analysis to certain additional measures, however, I do find some evidence consistent with positive defensive behavior among obstetricians. For instance, I estimate that the adoption of a noneconomic damage cap is associated with a reduction in the utilization of episiotomies during vaginal deliveries, without a corresponding change in observed neonatal outcomes.

Publication Citation

Published in: Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Vol. 9, No. 3 (September 2012).