Why doctors have bigger houses than lawyers

March 15, 2016

According to a recent Washington Post report entitled "One weird reason why doctors buy bigger homes than lawyers," physicians tend to purchase more expensive homes than similarly paid members of other professions. Find out why!

It's not so fashionable these days to talk about The Ten Commandments, but this ancient tome contains a lot of reasonable guidance regarding appropriate conduct.

Engaging in certain behaviors, like killing, stealing, and coveting the goods and wife of one's neighbor are often frowned upon in polite society, and at the least might cause your neighbor to think twice before inviting you over to his Super Bowl party.

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So I felt bad about catching myself being somewhat envious that my neighbor, a very successful attorney, had a home that was much nicer than mine. In addition, he had a vacation home in Florida much nicer than my home.

As if that wasn't enough, he has yet a third vacation home, at a ski resort in the Rockies, also much nicer than my one home. By comparison to my lawyer friend, I was a poor guy.

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I didn't even know that the statistics say it should be the other way around. According to a recent Washington Post report entitled "One weird reason why doctors buy bigger homes than lawyers," physicians tend to purchase more expensive homes than similarly paid members of other professions.

Why?

 

According to a study by Anupam Jena, a professor at Harvard Medical School, the physicians are trying to shield their assets from malpractice lawsuits.

The legal system in the United States is, of course, a patchwork quilt of state-by-state laws. Certain states in the United States have "homestead exemptions" that protect the asset of a person's home if they file for bankruptcy after losing a lawsuit.

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In those states physicians purchase homes that cost an average of 13% more than the homes of business executives and lawyers earning the same incomes. In states without these homestead protections, the difference in home prices did not exist.

Another interesting aspect to these malpractice lawsuits is the "pain and suffering" or non-economic damage awards allowed to people who sue their doctors and how they vary by state. In New Hampshire, $875,000 is the limit on what someone can be awarded for pain and suffering, a number more than twice that in my home state of Maryland ($350,000) and three times that in my former domicile of California ($250,000).

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The suffering of the citizens of New Hampshire probably deserves this much higher reward because they already suffer greatly (in contrast to Californians and Marylanders) from the brutally cold winters and the noise pollution from the panoply of presidential aspirants who descend upon their state every four years before the first primary.

My own view is that ophthalmologists are not as affected by our strange legal system as many physicians in some other specialties. Malpractice judgments against ophthalmologists, I am told, rarely exceed standard insurance limits and it is therefore extremely unlikely that one of us would lose our home to pay a malpractice claim.

If I were to advise a young ophthalmologist today, I would not recommend buying a bigger home out of fear of lawsuits. But according to Dr. Jena, "malpractice fear affects physician behavior in a wide range of ways, and policy makers should not ignore it."

 

Reference

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/02/29/how-the-threat-of-malpractice-could-push-doctors-to-buy-bigger-homes/

http://www.nber.org/papers/w22031