I was encouraged by reading your message that I am not alone in my fear of litigation. I've often said that the day I get sued is the day that I quit clinical medicine altogether. I also know that going through a lawsuit would take a tremendous toll on my personal life, likely making me like those physicians that you describe so well. I recently edited an anthology of writings by woman doctors and interesting enough, no one wrote about being sued - probably because the experience was much too painful. The closest piece was one entitled, A Doctor Alone with Her Decision, a piece which explores how we as doctors are forced to make difficut decision in an imperfect world - and how often we are alone in those situation, particularly when the outcome is not good. There was recently a wonderful article, I think in the Annals or JAMA about a cardiologist who remembers 20 years later about the man who died as a result of his decision. The one encouraging point that he emphasizes is that we don't realize how much good we do as doctors.
NOnetheless, it's a heavy burden that we carry, one which I wish I had realized before I started on this path.
Thanks for speaking up about this subject. I think we all agree with you.
I would like to know if anyone could share specifics. For example, how long did the process take? How useful were YOUR lawyers? Did the award exceed your insurance and if so what happened? Did you have to declare bankruptcy? Did you have any out-of-pocket expenses and if so, what where they?
In my case the patient died in 1992, I was served with papers in 1994 and the trial occurred in 1997. No out of pocket costs. The insurance company foot the whole bill and paid me an income for the days spent in court. The original award was 500,000 dollars, overturned on appeal and settled for 125,000 dollars. I am not pleased that the case was settled and would have prefered another trial but I had no say in that.
First of all you have to realize that anybody may sue anybody for anything here in the US of A. They may even be under pressure from friends and family to do so. I cannot help but think that the truly bad doctors who get sued because they deserve it rarely feel as bad about it. You go through everything and figure out what if anything you should have done differently, or how you could have related better to the patient and the answer may be nothing, or maybe I should have realized they were not "OK" with what I said and a follow up phone call would have helped...or even a letter, which may help you later that at least you tried. It is still an awful experience and drains your time and energy, and colleagues who do not understand this- who think you could or should just shrug it off do not help. Having to write about it every time you re-apply for something is painful too.
The Christian Medical and Dental Society has a help program for physicians who are sued. The main address is
and the specific area for this is:
would say to anybody, realize you are in good company, not necessarily bad, don't give up, keep doing the right thing by your patients first and foremost, take care to establish good relationships with them, and document well.
Maybe later I will write about how I got sued, but to be honest it is still pretty painful, even though both times I came out in the clear along with the other docs (oh yeah, they usually go after pretty much everybody on the chart!!- every name is just that much more in possible award $$...)
I learned a lot from everyone who wrote. I had no out of pocket expenses other than lost time. For me, the emotional stress of the lawsuit was the worst part. The problem with our current system is the lack of distinction between malpractice and maloccurence. That is why it is so hard to find a neurosurgeon in St. Louis. Our city is apparently a great place to win a large settlement, so a lot of lawyers try to get the city of St. Louis as a venue. The lawyers for your defense try to be helpful. My exinsurer has done me the "favor" of appointing a new lawyer for the remaining two cases I have left with them. My former attorney has been helpful in supplying information and moral support. The one case I had that went to trial so far I won easily, but even so, I was in tears by the end of the process. With two cases looming in my future, I try to role model people who have been through diificult times. I cannot choose what is happening to me, but I can choose the attitude I adopt.
This is a topic very much in my mind currently so it's really great to hear similar stories and discuss the impact.
I have been sued and the case has just been settled. I was the first Doctor of 3 to see a lady who subsequently was diagnosed with a nodular melanoma some 8 months later. This sadly metastasized and she is now terminal.
Being contacted by the lawyers initially was terrifying. I had no idea what would happen, had no guidance or support from the insurance company. I really struggled over the 3.5 years it was ongoing. I became depressed, super anxious, lost all joy in my job and doubted everything I was doing. I sought help but the psychologist made me feel worse. I don't feel I have recovered yet. I practice differently over investigate, refer more and am super serious with patients and see them as a threat. I hope things improve otherwise will be leaving medicine. If it happened again I would leave medicine for sure.