Five Doctors Tell 'How I Survived After Being Sued'

Mark Crane


April 26, 2017

In This Article

Support From Family and Friends Is Key

"My attorney said the trial would last 2 weeks. Naively, I asked if I had to be there. He started laughing and said I needed to be there every minute of the trial. So I couldn't see any patients then. I was scared out of my mind. It was depressing to know that I could lose even though I didn't do anything wrong."

"The lawsuit affected my mood. I wasn't a very pleasant person to be around. I just felt so betrayed. It was very frustrating to just sit there and listen to the patient lie on the witness stand and listen to her lawyer twisting my words and attacking me."

Dr Onyewu wasn't at all confident that the jury would find for him. "I had no way of telling what the jurors were thinking. The jury began deliberating but didn't reach a verdict that first day. Was that a good sign or a bad one? I had no idea. Fortunately, the jury came back the next day and found that I wasn't liable. I felt relief that this ordeal was over but was still upset that I lost so much time out of my life over this."

The experience changed the way Dr Onyewu interacts with patients. "I'm absolutely more wary that any patient could be a potential lawsuit. We're not on the same team anymore. I don't engage in defensive medicine, but my way of documentation is very different now. I document completely unnecessary information. In court, if it isn't written on the chart, it's like it didn't happen. At trial, it's your word against the patient's. So I include notes on every conversation. It's burdensome but necessary."

What advice would he give to other physicians facing a lawsuit? "Your support network is important. My wife was very supportive. She knew when to be with me and when to leave me alone. I don't know what I would have done without her."

"Doctors should know that the outcome of any case isn't an indictment of your quality as a physician," he said. "That took me a while to realize. I know how much I care for my patients, how much empathy and concern I have. Now I realize that it wouldn't be the end of the world if I lost the case, as long as I know I did my best.

"I still have faith that if you're kind to patients and provide good care, most will appreciate it. But some may not."


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