Doctors-Turned-Lawyers: 'Why We Now Sue You'

Mark Crane


May 22, 2013

In This Article


Atlanta-based general surgeon Ronald Kaplan, MD, "got tired of working for nothing" after more than 20 years in practice, frustrated as reimbursement rates steadily dropped. He became a lawyer. He now represents injured patients who sue doctors, after several malpractice defense firms turned him down for a job.

One of his best friends since residency, a surgeon he'd covered and operated with, never forgave him. "When he found out I did plaintiff's work, he just stopped talking to me," said Kaplan, the son of a judge.

Other MD-JDs have experienced similar encounters but, like Kaplan, are proud of the work they do. "If you run a red light and hit someone, you should compensate him or her. That's why you have insurance. No doctor can be perfect," said Clark Newhall, a surgeon-attorney in Salt Lake City who became interested in law after a legal dispute over water rights he described as "fun."

Are doctors who become lawyers tougher on the MDs they sue? Or are they more dangerous adversaries because they know exactly what to look for?

"Doctors may not like lawyers who sue doctors, but if they saw the cases we actually bring, I don't think they'd object to what I do," said Armand Leone, a radiologist-attorney in Glen Rock, New Jersey. The MD-JDs Medscape spoke with who represent plaintiffs said they turn down 98 out of 100 cases they review. They all said the prevalence of frivolous lawsuits is a myth. "We have to advance $50,000 to $75,000 or more to bring a case to trial. We can't afford to file frivolous cases, said Leone.

"Attorneys without our medical background often take cases that shouldn't be pursued," said Sharon Siegel, a cardiothoracic surgeon who became an attorney with a California law firm after being frustrated by hospital politics and cost-containment edicts. "Nonphysician attorneys often name as defendants every doctor on the medical chart. They go on fishing expeditions with a scattershot approach. We can better zero in on the issues of negligence. We do better case management and can limit the number of expert witnesses needed."

Although there's no official count of how many doctors are also lawyers, some doctors say they see this phenomenon becoming more common.

MD-JDs say they don't like suing their former colleagues, but under the current system, it's the only way for injured patients to be compensated. Because of their experience on both sides of the fence, they can make formidable opponents. Their insights can provide a valuable warning to physicians on how to avoid suits.

Here is their advice on how physicians can avoid getting sued and how to prevail if they are sued.


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