Many states, including Virginia, make this information available on the internet. You can also call or write to the Board of Medicine.
It is my feeling that if a physician has had multiple law suits, say more than 5, you would be prudent to chose another doctor. I was at a social function ( a 60th birthday party) 10 days ago and sat with two physicians, who have been in practice for quite awhile. We began to recall some of the physicians with multiple suits. One I remember had over 20 malpractice suits. Obviously, avoid a character like this like you might avoid the swine flu.
However, many skilled, and very competent physicians have been sued, sometimes successfully. I remember as a pathology resident at Yale, the surgeon that most of the department would have named the best and most trusted was slapped with a malpractice suit. ( And pathologists and OR nurses, are probably the best people to ask).
The story was that a 28 year old women had been throwing blood clots and developing a necrotic bowel. Multiple operations to excise her dead bowel had left her with only a remnant of her small intestine. One night she threw another clot. The above mentioned surgeon dragged himself out of bed at 2:00 in the morning and reluctantly decided to operate. I say reluctant, not because he was lazy, but because he felt she would not survive if she was not operated upon. Her bowel was septic (infected) and spilling out toxins. Even if the operation was to prove successful her chances of survival with such a small amount of small intestine was nearly equally slim.
During the operation she went into shock, and briefly lost her blood pressure. She was brought back, survived the operation, yet died post operatively.
One day before the statue of limitations was to expire, her surgeon as sued by the husband. This was for the operational incident with the loss in blood pressure. I cannot remember the verdict of the jury, but I know this surgeon was devastated. We residents all felt terrible that this most compassionate and skilled man, arguably the best surgeon at one of the top medical centers, had this happen to him.
I am sure most physicians (and residents) can tell similar stories of fine physicians who were sued.