HAVE YOU BEEN SUED?……..LET’S TALK!!

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  • #36943
    DONOTDELETE ****DONOTDELETE**
    Participant

    Okay, now I know I am bringing up a subject we all love to avoid but I would like to start a discussion about being sued. I am a young physician who is contemplating leaving medicine altogether. I feel that I was never really adequately prepared for the hostile environment that is medicine. I was always told… be a good doctor, don’t make the patients mad and they will not sue you. When I was in medical school I did not see this as a problem because I had no intentions of being anything other than a good doctor and a caring person. Well, as we know today whether you did anything wrong or not has very little to do with being sued. All you really need is a bad outcome or sometimes even just an angry patient. A friend of mine (a nurse) was sued when a morbidly obese 13 year old came into the ER with abdominal pain. Before the nurse could triage her she asked to go to the restroom and promptly delivered her baby…she supposedly had no idea she was pregnant. Well, she sued the nurse because she did not give her dignitiy of person because she “made” her deliver in a restroom. We all know about these cases. Even if you get lucky and the case is dismissed you still loose. Depression, marital strain or divorce, self doubt, viewing every patient as a potential law suit…. We have all seen physicians who were sued that suddenly appeared a lot older. Sometimes it changes their entire personality.

    I can imagine that some of you think I am just full of sour grapes because I have been sued. No, I have not been sued to date… but you know they have plenty of time to do so. I just think it is unreasonable for us to make a decision about a career in medicine without really knowing what it entails.

    I have a secret goal of becoming a pediatric dermatologist. Even though I am a BC pediatrician I would have to go back and do a total separate residency. I am not willing to make this sacrifice if I cannot come to terms with or learn to deal with medicine as it is.

    I am begging anyone out there with experience dealing with a law suit to please share. It is time we starting talking about it. What was it like? Did you “lose everything” and if so what does this really mean? I may just be slow but I really have been researching this and so far have not been able to find out what really happens to doctors after they are sued. I mean financially, emotionally, spiritually etc. Has anyone else done research on this topic and found sites that are helpful?

    Thanks,

    #36944
    horsemanhorseman
    Participant

    YOur state medical society should be a good resourse. Mine has a support network for physicians struggling with suit-related stresses. YOur malpractice insurer would be another good resource.

    #36945
    obgyn17obgyn17
    Participant

    I have been sued so many times, I had to change malpractice carriers. It is terrible for any high risk specialty. Some of my colleagues have been forced to retire. I am not an expert in dealing with stress, but finding other physicians and professionals you can talk to about this can help. Also, I am working to bring this issue to the attention of the public and the legislature.
    Just writing letters about the subject has been a huge release for me. I also try to do things I enjoy like going to concerts, and stress relief measures such as yoga and exercise. Ultimately, the problem is that we are stuck in a system that really sucks. I have moments of severe depression even with all of the above things I do to try to relieve stress. Thanks for writing and allowing me to ventilate a little. I would be interested in hearing from others.

    #36946
    ellieellie
    Participant

    Wow, OBGN17… :grouphug:
    Good job on hanging in there.
    Ellie

    #36947
    GracieThreeGracieThree
    Participant

    ObGyn17 – I was just reading in the AMA newsletter that the premiums for OBs in particular are skyrocketing. I was also surprised to see that St. Louis was pretty high up there on list of average premium payments. I wonder what is going on in St. Louis? Is it a litiginous environment? I have been reading with great interest the tort reform suggestions going before the legislature in my state (AL) as well as the recent strikes of general surgeons on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Something has got to give. Floride is trying to pass legislation to top one of the penalties at $250K per case. What a change that would be from these million dollar verdicts.

    I am about to start looking for private malpractice insurance – yikes!

    #36948
    kiddiestatdockiddiestatdoc
    Participant

    Originally posted by horseman:
    YOur state medical society should be a good resourse. Mine has a support network for physicians struggling with suit-related stresses. YOur malpractice insurer would be another good resource.

    When I first was sued I called my state medical society to see if there was a support group or anyone that could serve as a mentor through the horrific process. There was no group or any mentor.

    I was profoundly influenced by this suit. When found “guilty” I immediately quit my job and could not return for 1 whole week after rethinking my hasty decision. I feared patients, particularly Spanish speaking only, as there was a language barrier with the individual who sued. It is now more than 5 years later and even though the case was overturned on appeal and then settled without liability to me, I practice very defensive medicine. This means that I order more tests than necessary, am paranoid in dealing with patients who speak different languages, and am generally anxious. I have lost faith in my belief that our world is generally made up of people who mean no harm and I am less idealistic (this is not necessarily a bad thing,,,,,I am more realistic). This also caused me to leave clinical practice for a period of time to do administration which did not involve a malpractice risk. After doing that for 2 years, I missed clinical medicine, was bored with admin, and had to reeducate myself in my chosen field due to my absence. I also was less marketable.

    All in all, I think it traumatized me completely, and made me self doubt even more than I had before, and makes me hate my job due to its everpresent risk. I would get out of medicine in a heartbeat if I could find a position in administration that excited me as much as patient care.

    #36949
    DONOTDELETE ****DONOTDELETE**
    Participant

    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.

    #36950
    DONOTDELETE ****DONOTDELETE**
    Participant

    Thanks to all of you who have replied!! :wave:

    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?

    Thanks,

    #36951
    kiddiestatdockiddiestatdoc
    Participant

    Dear Afraid,

    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.

    #36952
    vstefansvstefans
    Participant

    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 http://www.cmds.org and the specific area for this is: http://www.cmds.org/?CONTEXT=art&cat=56&art=286&BISKIT=3846318288I 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 $$…)

    Best regards,
    Vikki Stefans

    #36953
    obgyn17obgyn17
    Participant

    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.

    #145749
    LWLW
    Participant

    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.

    #168955
    LWLW
    Participant

    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.

    #146946
    EMEM
    Participant

    I’m currently involved in my first lawsuit. Even after critically reviewing the case, I don’t feel like I did anything that wasn’t standard of care. It has been dragging on for 2 years and the court date is set next year. I have never been an anxious or depressed person and have always loved medicine, but I am looking for any way out at this point. I can’t keep practicing in this field.

    #169740
    EMEM
    Participant

    I’m currently involved in my first lawsuit. Even after critically reviewing the case, I don’t feel like I did anything that wasn’t standard of care. It has been dragging on for 2 years and the court date is set next year. I have never been an anxious or depressed person and have always loved medicine, but I am looking for any way out at this point. I can’t keep practicing in this field.

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