Being sued for malpractice, for doctors it’s personal

What is it like to be sued for malpractice?

Although many say “every physician gets sued,” and, “never to talk about it,” how does it affect doctors?

As I’ve written before, being sued for malpractice is a traumatically scarring experience. So much that up to 10 percent of doctors in this situation contemplated suicide.

George Hossfeld writes about his malpractice ordeal (via Dr. RW) in Emergency Medicine News (which, as the home of the infamous Jonathan Glauser rant, is becoming known for its rather provocative opinion pieces), saying doctors need to speak openly about their malpractice experiences. Doing so will de-stigmatize the stain that a malpractice suit brings, especially when doctors are found liable in only a minority of cases.

“Every opportunity to discuss our predicament should be an opportunity to expose it for what it is,” he writes. “We might find, and I predict we will, that most of us have been the target of meritless, painful accusations that have cost us energy, time, and self-esteem. Not a few bad apples, but the majority of our conscientious, diligent, committed colleagues. I’m sick as hell of it, and I don’t think we should take it anymore.”

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  • Anonymous

    Those of you in this situation have my sympathy. But I’ll also point out again that it’s equally personal for the patient who is “fired” not for having done anything wrong, but because risk management has profiled you as a lawsuit risk. Once that happens, you’ll have a hard time ever trusting anyone again. It sucks on both sides.

  • Supremacy Claus

    I agree it is personal. The innocent doctor (90% of defendants) has a moral duty to defend clinical care and to deter future similar cases.

    The defense attorney is paid very little and needs a trial to break even. So the doctor must hire a personal attorney to terrorize this traitor to end the case at the earliest possible stage. Try to send the bill to the insurance company since the low pay of the insurance traitor is a form of insurance bad faith. Docs will learn how it feels to be an HMO patient, getting minimal care, from their insurance carrier.

    There is recourse against plaintiff experts, but only within the trial. The doctor must read every word uttered and written by the expert. If the expert has uttered a wrong fact or an opinion contradicting a prior statement, he must instruct the defense attorney to call for a mistrial, to request perjury charges of the judge, and to demand all legal cost be assessed to the plaintiff expert. The defense attorney will not want to hurt anyone on the plaintiff side because they gave him his job (true of the insurance carrier too – the conflict of interest is insurmountable). he lawyer and insurance carrier will just laugh at the legally naive doctor. This is where the terrorist personal lawyer comes in. The defense lowlife deserves no human consideration, and should be bullied to the fullest extent of the law.

    I am not sure about the idea of going public. All statements may be used to discredit the defendant. It is the rare doc that controls the message that well. One may go public after the favorable verdict.

  • Anonymous

    This complaint keeps coming up as if it were some basis for excusing physicians from legal liability.

    I read denial and inexcusable ignorance of law and legal procedure.

    The “meritless” nature of the claims always asserted doesn’t really jive with the deep self-esteem wounding reported.

    And physicians could spare themselves some of the grief complained of if they troubled themselves to gain a basic and realistic understanding of law affecting their practice – why they are named in a suit, how and why they will be served in a civil action, what the plaintiff must allege and prove to prevail.

    Who is to blame if a physician is served in a civil matter and believes he is being indicted for manslaughter?

    I would argue, not the plaintiff, not his representative, not the courts nor the tort system, but the physician.

  • feminizedwesternmale

    Anon 7:13
    But I’ll also point out again that it’s equally personal for the patient who is “fired” not for having done anything wrong, but because risk management has profiled you as a lawsuit risk. Once that happens, you’ll have a hard time ever trusting anyone again.

    They are hardly equal. Equal would be when a patient leaves the doctor “not for having done anything wrong.” Nevertheless, doctors seldom even glance, recognizing that it is a patient (AND PHYSICIAN’s) prerogative. Indeed, doctors manage to trust the next 23.6 patients, to finish the day.
    IMO, risk management earned their keep when they pegged you.

  • Dr. Mary Johnson

    I picked up that particular guantlet in 2007 – after the fall of Flea:

    http://drjshousecalls.blogspot.com/2007/05/fear-not-picking-up-gauntlet-in-medical.html

  • Anonymous

    AS a patient who received radical abdominal “resectioning” for a non life threatening condition after issuing prior clear and repeated instructions against pursuing aggressive procedures during a diagnostic laparotomy, I meet the wronged physician argument with skepticism and exasperation. Many wronged patients have also lost their life savings, their dignity, their life’s work, their livelihood, and likewise, considered suicide because of preventable medical error, arrogance, or over-treatment.
    Many harmed persons sue in the hope that a tragedy like theirs can be prevented for others through making their harm public.
    Unfortunately, good doctors don’t often speak out when they know their colleagues are either inept or just predatory. And when they do, see Dr. Mary J’s ordeal of banishment.

    Energy is being wasted in both suing medical professionals and in medical professionals lashing out against it as unfair. It is not unfair to point out and justly punish physicians who commit harm as the result of negligence or predation.

    Please turn your energies toward suggesting how to prevent harm from occurring and continuing to occur.

    Many claims against physicians are not without merit. Your unethical peers are not only dangerous to the humans who are your patients; they are a danger to the integrity of your entire profession.

    Change is only going to come from inside. It has to come from YOU.

  • Anonymous

    Please , most people who fie law suits say that if there doctor had apologized for and explained what went wrong and had a plan to continue treatment they would never call a lawyer instead patients are referred to as bad because they are sick when a doctor is unable to make them healthy . If you don’t want to get sued pay attention to what you are doing take a minute listen to what your patients are saying and what they are hearing you say. Most importantly if you don’t know whats wrong say so if some thing isn’t working stop and remember medical treatment is expensive we are your customers. You take your car to a mechanic and when you get it back it has a flat is missing a seat and it still wont run and your mechanic sent you a bill would you pay or sue?

  • Anon 7:13

    Stumbled across the reply from “femininzed” just now, seven months after my original post. Afraid I do not agree with his/her comments, as the ratios don’t equate at all.

    As he/she says, one doctor is able to see and trust 26 other patients after, without fanfare, being dropped by one. Fine. Good for you. Did you even know the absent patient’s name? Remember his face? Probably not. If you even noticed the absence, you might well have appreciated having one less patient to treat.

    In my case (which you know nothing about, so your “IMO” comment is pretty absurd), I had seen the surgeon who “fired” me for 24 appointments. Eight surgeries. Knew the face well. Contributed to his “Operation Smile”-like charity. When I was terminated from his office, I lost the freedom not simply to choose him as my doctor, but also his two partners, because this clinic’s “risk management company” insisted on the “one means all” mentality. Therefore until I changed insurers I was without access to insurance-covered care in that speciality in this area. I did not have 26 other doctors to choose from. I suddenly faced a gaping hole in my medical care that was not easy to fill. It was VERY personal and it hurt like hell.

    These two situations are not equal.

    I have since learned that the doctor didn’t actually “fire” me. It was the decision of the third-party, uninformed risk manager whose erroneous judgment was supported by equally uninformed administrators (neither I nor the doctor really had much to do with it after a point — it was about protecting a power structure). So I’ve decided to focus my distrust on lawyers rather than doctors.

    Not that remarks such as yours, “feminized”, justify such trust at all.

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