• We reviewed malpractice data from the state of Wisconsin for 1983 and 1984 to determine the frequency and the outcome of malpractice litigation by the elderly. Research data were obtained from court dockets filed with Wisconsin's Patients Compensation Panel and from 281 attorneys who provided the age for 431 claimants. The results showed that 10.0% of malpractice suits in Wisconsin were filed by the elderly during the study years. When we compared the frequency of litigation with the use of the health care system (number of hospitalizations and inpatient days), the elderly were significantly less likely than younger persons to initiate malpractice litigation despite greater exposure to potential negligence. However, once a malpractice suit was filed, there was no significant difference between older and younger litigants in the disposition of the case or in the likelihood of being the prevailing party when a finding or award was made. These findings suggest that the elderly are less likely to file malpractice claims against health care providers than would be expected given their use of the health care system. This finding may be related to social, economic, and legal barriers to malpractice litigation by older adults.
(Arch Intern Med. 1990;150:1091-1093)