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.
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