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March 22, 2006



In the spirit of your invitation, even though I do not practice medicine, I thought I would tell you about a patient who died because his family doctor prescribed lethal doses of narcotics over a six month period.


Previously posted on KevinMD blog.
"I have been following this blog for quite awhile and now I must contribute. Malpractice cases may effectively be place into 3 categories: 1)Defendant obviously guilty--wrong leg cut off, etc. These are almost alway settled before trial, but frequently get the most press: 2)Defendant obviously innocent--shotgun suits against everone on the chart, no matter the facts. Personal example: I am a radiologist. Moved from MI to GA. Went to the beach for spring break with my family. Return on a Sat. to find a Certified letter in my mail from MI. I know what it is--MI has a 6 mo pre-suit notification law. Can't get mail until Monday. Approx 36 hrs of living hell. Lawsuit confirmed after wife picks up mail on Mon. and calls me. Anxiety, anguish, etc turn into monumental disgust with lawyers when it becomes perfectly clear that I had done nothing wrong. Plaintiffs attorney could not even get a certificate of merit from another radiologist because I had read the x-ray properly. I guess I am just thin- skinned. I was dismissed from the case before discovery. Were they thinking: Oh, we'll sue him anyway and maybe get lucky somehow and get some money out of it? This happens way more than anyone knows. But I guess CJD won't buy it unless there is some "proof" that it happens. This is data which will never be collected, because there is no financial incentive to do so. and 3)Suits where there is a difference of opinion between expert witnesses--those cases that go to court. Example: As a radiologist, one of my great concerns is interpretation of mammograms. Most doctors know that they are EXTREMELY DIFFICULT in many cases. Follow-up views, US are common. Even under the best circumstances, it has been shown that a significant number will be missed. However, in retrospect, well-paid expert witnesses have no trouble seeing them on old mammograms. Of course, the defendant's expert thinks differently. Therefore, it goes to the jury. A 36 year old woman with three small children dies of breast cancer. Who is going to win that one? The whole process stinks. The best lawyer wins. Just ask John Edwards."


"Were they thinking: Oh, we'll sue him anyway and maybe get lucky somehow and get some money out of it? This happens way more than anyone knows."

When was the statute of limitations to have run out?

What insurers are there that just pay out with a demand letter? I'm sure plaintiff's lawyers would love to know their names.


Well, the insurers didn't have to pay a claim, but they sure had to pay their lawyers something for getting my name off of the suit which was obviously frivolous with respect to me. (I should have filed a countersuit, but I was just so damn glad to get it over with that I did not have sufficient rage at the time--only relief.) PS--How about the intangible costs (ie, anxiety, etc) which can never be quantitated. And guess what? These costs really bother doctors. With respect to the statute of limitations: Plaintiffs had time to get an affidavit of merit with respect to the other doctor involved. They just couldn't find anyone to point the finger at me because I had done nothing wrong. I would like to hear other posts from doctors who have been unfairly accused. Also GTL please give me the estimate of Plaintiff's cost to put someone on a lawsuit vs the cost of the defense to get someone off. Summary: The case against me was frivolous and had its tangible and intangible costs. If I were that sloppy, people would die every day.


"PS--How about the intangible costs (ie, anxiety, etc) which can never be quantitated. And guess what? These costs really bother doctors."

I understand. I've been sued myself. However, becoming a physician doesn't mean you get to be free from anxiety.

You personally had no actual costs because you had already paid your premium, and would have done so regardless.

What your attorneys should have done was file a motion to sanction the other side. You don't need to file a countersuit and it would not have taken any additional time from you. You likely would not have even had to be present at the hearing. They didn't, presumably because your insurer didn't want to.

I agree with you though - you shouldn't have been named, if what you're saying is correct. Evidently it didn't bother the person paying the bills, though, or they would have done something about it.


"Evidently it didn't bother the person paying the bills, though, or they would have done something about it."

Doing something about it would have cost the person paying the bills even MORE in legal fees, or the doctor involved would have had to hire ANOTHER lawyer to pursue action for the meritless claim....so that's kind of a specious argument for letting the system stay as it is...


Donna, the person paying the bill is the insurer. The insurers are, historically, making money. Sure they have ups and downs, but that's the nature of insuring risk.

I don't know how many casualty insurers you deal with, but I can't imagine it's many. If you did, you'd know that if they get a chance to pop a plaintiff's lawyer on the head, they will.


And it's no less specious an argument than those presented for changing a civil justice system enshrined in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution all just to save some insurers, and maybe even physicians, some money.

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