Malpractice and Medicine: Who Gets Sued and Why?

Carol Peckham


December 08, 2015

In This Article

The Long Legal Process

Only 20% of lawsuits against physicians who responded in this survey went to trial, and only 16% went as far as a verdict. Forty percent of the physicians who answered this question reported that their lawsuits were dismissed, and about a third (32%) reached a settlement before trial. Doctors do win the vast majority of lawsuits, but they fear entering the world of the lawyer," said Marc Siegel, MD, an internist, author, professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, and a senior Fox News medical contributor. "Courts are unpredictable, and the stress of being sued—with years of depositions, worry, and damage to your reputation—is a devastating experience, even if there's no payment to the patient."[8]

Nevertheless, it comes as little surprise that most physicians expressed negativity about lawyers. About a third (32%) admitted that they "truly hate them." The most positive choices selected about lawyers were that they complain about them but don't really care (9%), that they are annoying but have a job to do (46%), or that they have no particular feelings about them (12%). Most of the physicians who had written comments had nothing good to say about lawyers.

Hours Spent on Defense Preparation

Over a third (36%) of respondents spent more than 40 hours preparing for trial. These could be the best-spent hours for physicians with claims against them. A number of physicians, when asked if they had any advice to give their peers, stressed the importance of preparation for both the deposition and trial. One physician advised, "State the facts clearly and have them straight from the beginning. Make sure you are prepared and reviewed all records carefully and be prepared for any questions. Review [them] with your attorney and malpractice insurance prior to any deposition." Another warned, "Don't underestimate the intent of the plaintiff attorney to win the case. Don't underprepare for the trial."

Hours Spent in Court and Trial-Related Meetings

More than 40% of physician respondents who were sued spent more than 50 hours in court. One physician complained, "Waste of my time. In court for 8 weeks. Couldn't practice. I should have sued the patient for lost wages." Another said, "Trial lasted 3 weeks—lost 12 pounds."

Length of Entire Lawsuit Process

The lawsuit process was less than a year for only 19% of the physicians who reported being sued. For slightly more than a third (36%), it lasted between 1 and 2 years, and a third were involved for 3-5 years. Only 12% endured it for longer than 5 years. One physician whose case lasted over 3 years said that these were "years of agonizing about the potential for a catastrophic outcome, loss of license, practice, etc." Another doctor described his longer process as "5 years of uncertainty."


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