Five Doctors Tell 'How I Survived After Being Sued'

Mark Crane

Disclosures

April 26, 2017

In This Article

Beware the Plaintiff's Attorney

Thomas K. Wuest, MD, an orthopedic trauma surgeon in Eugene, Oregon, was sued by a utility company lineman who fell more than 20 feet from a pole and sustained multiple injuries. Dr Wuest was called in by his partners when they experienced problems obtaining union with the distal humerus fracture. During surgery, the radial nerve was partially injured.

"I was served with legal papers just days before the statute of limitations would have tolled," he recounts. "I was totally surprised. I felt some guilt about whether I did anything wrong. I was also angry and felt betrayed. I'd worked hard in a complex case on someone who wasn't even my patient."

The jury found for Dr Wuest, but it took a while for the stress to dissipate. "I did see new patients as potential litigants. I second-guessed some decisions and practiced defensive medicine, ordering additional imaging studies, labs, and second opinions when, in my heart of hearts, I didn't think they were really needed."

"There was a strong sense of isolation and loneliness before trial because I couldn't discuss the details of the case with anyone but my attorney and insurer. Any such conversations could be discoverable," he points out.

"Expect the plaintiff's attorney to be merciless," he advises. "I had been deposed a number of times in workers' compensation, car accident cases, etc. So I understood that if the attorney isn't raking you over the coals, he's probably not doing a good job for his client. Still, it's painful to hear in open court what a terrible doctor I am."

Dr Wuest attended a retreat sponsored by The Doctors Company and later recorded a video on YouTube about his experience. "They let you know that this process is theater and you're one of the actors in the play. Once I got that down, the personal attacks were less painful. The mock depositions and trial testimony we rehearsed were very helpful."

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