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Medical liability sometimes involves residents

On Behalf of | Dec 4, 2020 | Medical Malpractice

Completing a residency or fellowship is an important part of becoming a physician. But undergoing this training still comes with the possibility of medical liability. According to a recent study published in Academic Medicine, however, medical malpractice lawsuits involving residents and fellows are comparatively rare.

These trainees may assume more responsibility each year if they master the material from the previous year. Even if the number of these lawsuits are comparatively small, any malpractice can be devastating.


The study relied on data from a Harvard-operated national database, the Comparative Benchmarking System, concerning medical liability claims closed between 2012 and 2016 at hospitals across the United States. It involved 3,191 claims that met research criteria.

Residents or fellows were involved in 581 harm events. There were 471 of these events that involved residents only, 75 involving only fellows and 35 involving a resident and a fellow.

Risk areas

Residents or fellow in surgical specialties faced a higher risk of involvement in harm events involving malpractice claims. Inadequate supervision usually played a part in these cases.

Puncture or laceration during a procedure was the most common final diagnosis in the study’s malpractice claims, 62 or 11 percent, involving residents or fellows. Procedural complication was second with 34 or six percent. The third most common was nervous system complication with 30 incidents or five percent.

Inadequate supervision of physician trainees was identified as the highest contributing factor 140 times or 24 percent while technical performance involving a known complication was named 137 times or 24 percent. Failure to reconcile relevant signs, symptoms or tests was involved in 15 percent of cases or 88 times.


Residents and fellow should ask for assistance in their beginning months. There should be additional oversight of fellows and residents when they are engaged in higher risk procedures.

The study did reveal that there is no July effect or an increase of claims when a physician trainee workforce in hospital changes over that month every year. This was attributed to increase supervision and teaching in nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, and other services and involving trainees in their responsibilities.

Determining responsibility for medical negligence may be difficult. An attorney can help gather evidence and assure that a lawsuit is timely filed.