Background: Rising medical malpractice premiums have reached a crisis point in many areas of the United States. In 2003 the Texas legislature passed a comprehensive package of tort reform laws that included a cap at $250,000 on noneconomic damages in most medical malpractice cases. We hypothesized that tort reform laws significantly reduce the risk of malpractice lawsuit in an academic medical center. We compared malpractice prevalence, incidence, and liability costs before and after comprehensive state tort reform measures were implemented. Study Design: Two prospectively maintained institutional databases were used to calculate and characterize malpractice risk: a surgical operation database and a risk management and malpractice database. Risk groups were divided into pretort reform (1992 to 2004) and post-tort reform groups (2004 to the present). Operative procedures were included for elective, urgent, and emergency general surgery procedures. Results: During the study period, 98,513 general surgical procedures were performed. A total of 28 lawsuits (25 pre-reform, 3 postreform) were filed, naming general surgery faculty or residents. The prevalence of lawsuits filed/100,000 procedures performed is as follows: before reform, 40 lawsuits/100,000 procedures, and after reform, 8 lawsuits/100,000 procedures (p < 0.01, relative risk 0.21 [95% CI 0.063 to 0.62]). Virtually all of the liability and defense cost was in the pretort reform period: $595,000/year versus $515/year in the postreform group (p < 0.01). Conclusions: Implementation of comprehensive tort reform in Texas was associated with a significant decrease in the prevalence and cost of surgical malpractice lawsuits at one academic medical center.
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