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“I’m Innocent, Your Honor”

February 19, 2013

Let’s talk lawsuits today.  If you ask your doctor “have you ever been sued?” chances are your doctor will say “yes”.  Does this mean most doctors are bad, or negligent, or incompetent?  Of course not.  Any doctor who has been NAMED in a suit is on the list of doctors who have been sued.  This list contains not only doctors who have had settlements against them but anyone who had his name in the chart, or was in the room at the time, or was in the hospital at the time, or who got dropped from the suit, or who was found not culpable.  If you’ve been named, you’ve been sued, period.  The doctor has to report that to all credentialing bodies forever.

The New England Journal of Medicine http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1012370 and Health Affairs http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/32/1/111.full.html have recently published data on the amount of TIME spent dealing with lawsuits.  Here are some of the things they say:

7.4% of physicians will be sued EACH YEAR of the years studied.

78% of those malpractice suits did NOT result in a payment.  As in, the physician was either dropped from the suit or found not culpable.

Each suit took between 2 and 4 years to resolve, regardless of outcome.

Here’s how these suits go:  something happens to you, the patient.  Some bad outcome.  You decide to sue.  Your attorney will get the records of your case and will likely suggest that you sue not only the doctor responsible, but everyone even remotely involved in the case.  So you carpet-bomb sue everyone.  Here’s some of the language your attorney might use on all these people:

“Patient Y’s bad outcome was a direct and proximate result of the carelessness, unskillfulness, negligence and improper care by Dr. X.”  And Dr. A and B and C and nurse D and E, etc.

So this is, you know, unpleasant reading for the person responsible.  But what about for all those people you named who didn’t do anything?  And what if the person responsible was just trying his/her best also?  78% of the time the person you called all those names turns out not to be any of those things.

OK, so you sue everyone in the chart.  Most of those people get dropped as the suit progresses, when evidence comes to light they had nothing to do with it.  But this has already lasted 2 years, everyone has had to talk to 12 lawyer which takes time that no one but the lawyer is paid for, and someone is making a lot of money getting all these people dropped from your suit.  Plus all those people have to report forever that they’ve “been sued”.

If you’ve got a legitimate complaint, and some people do, and you need monetary compensation or a public apology or whatever, by all means seek legal counsel.  But just be aware that you are likely to punish not only the person you think is responsible, but a lot of collateral damage is likely to result, and chances are the people getting money will not be you.  Think carefully.

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