Five Doctors Tell 'How I Survived After Being Sued'

Mark Crane


April 26, 2017

In This Article

Lawsuits Are Complex

"I told my attorney that I planned to do modified ED shifts during the trial. He said that was a very bad idea. He said I'd be physically and mentally exhausted after each day in court and he was right. I didn't do the shifts."

"Three other doctors and the hospital also were defendants in the suit. Just before trial, they all settled with the plaintiff. The hospital paid $5 million and the doctors $1 million each. I was the only defendant. The jury was never informed that the patient had already received $8 million. I felt awful that the hospital left me hanging out there alone, but my attorney was confident that we had a strong case."

"It was a difficult case and I wasn't at all sure the jury would understand the complexities. But the jury was wonderful. After the 3-week trial, it took the jury less than an hour to find that I wasn't liable. I totally believe in the jury system. It's the fairest thing in our democratic society."

The plaintiff appealed because he felt a comment from the doctor's attorney—that the patient was hoping for a runaway jury—was inflammatory and prejudicial. An appeals court and, ultimately, the state supreme court found for the doctor and awarded court costs.

The experience did little to change the way this doctor practices. "It changed my view of the hospital; I don't trust them anymore. But I pretty much practice the same way. I don't see new patients as potential litigants. We ED docs are just wired to deliver good care. I do spend more time explaining things to patients and their families."

"My tips to other doctors: Just take care of the patient as best you can. Trust yourself. Work closely with your attorney and insurer. If you and the lawyer don't trust each other, find someone else. Most importantly, continue to live your life. Love who you're with. Do what you enjoy. Live well."

"The stress of a lawsuit is one of the hardest things you'll ever experience. Don't let the case consume you. Believe in yourself and your team. Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep. Remember that it's an honor to take care of patients and save lives. There will always be poor outcomes. You can't let them eat you up."

Chukwuemeka Onyewu, MD, a plastic surgeon in Silver Spring, Maryland, was shocked when he learned that his patient intended to sue him.

"My first thought was that I can't believe this patient betrayed me like this and was so ungrateful," he says. "I put all my energy into trying to do the best for her. I wrote letters to her insurance company to get the procedure covered. I spent a lot of time advising her. It really stung. If I was guessing who would sue me, it never would have been this person."

"I felt thrust into this new world. I had no clue what goes on in a lawsuit. It felt like my own lawyer was speaking to me in Latin. The deposition was awful. They scrutinize every word you say, every picture you draw."


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