I went through one (yes only one) malpractice suit in 35 years of practice. Statistics say I was very fortunate to only go through one.
I had a long time patient, who, I thought, I had a good relationship with. I had operated on her twice before and she came back to see me for another surgery on her knee. I knew it would be difficult, but felt the benefits would outweigh the risks.
But she had a complication after this arthroscopic knee surgery called RSD and was left with some residual pain and dysfunction. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to help her get over it.
But, 102 weeks later, 2 weeks before the statute of limitations ran out, her attorneys filed a malpractice suit against me. I’m sure since she was having some residual trouble someone got in her ear and said “You can get some money for this” So off we go.
We went through 4 years of unsworn statements, affidavits, expert witness statements (from both sides), depositions and finally a failed mediation where the plaintiffs attorney told me “We are going to go after everything you have, Dr Chase. Your home, your car, everything.”
This takes a toll. You think about day and night. There are many a sleepless night.
I did not want to settle for anything! I was convinced that I had done nothing wrong! I was ready to take it to trial, but my attorney and insurance company
said “If we take it to trial, it will cost us over $100,000 to try this-with no guarantee we will win. It depends on who gets selected for the jury.”
My attorney said “They only want money. I think we can get them to go away for way less than it would cost to take to trial. Would you agree to it if there was no admission of wrongdoing on your part.?”
So that’s what we did. A payoff to make them go away. Very disillusioning.
I am the first person to say Doctors should be accountable for what they do. I am quite upset when I see poor medical care. But there is a difference between a poor outcome or an honest mistake and cavalier disregard for common practice and the patient’s welfare.
We, as physicians, are not permitted to make a mistake. We do, of course, but it is not allowed.
Hanging over our heads, everyday, every patient, is the threat of getting sued for medical negligence otherwise known as malpractice. It never leaves our minds. We document-sometimes excessively , because we are told your medical record is your best friend if you get sued. We make decisions all the time that are altered because we are afraid of a lawsuit. We order tests just to “make sure we didn’t miss anything”.
Do not let yourself think that this is a good thing. It raises costs tremendously. A patient may not be offered certain options because there is too much risk for the doctor to get sued. Talented doctors stop doing certain procedures because they don’t want to take that risk anymore.
Less than perfect results occur, dealing with human beings. But a poor outcome does not necessarily mean that malpractice occurred. You would never guess that watching TV with multiple ads implying there was malpractice if you were unhappy with your medical encounter.
It is actually difficult to win a malpractice case. The bar is very high.
So why are there so many suits? Because settlements can be very lucrative. It is torture going through a malpractice case. And the malpractice attorneys know that. It is just business to them. If they make it as difficult for us as possible, they can get 40% of a very nice settlement and never go to trial.