Lawsuits: Most Doctors Say There Was No Trigger Event


November 15, 2017

In This Article

Rapport Will Rarely Prevent a Lawsuit

Many physicians are surprised at being sued because they felt that they had good communication and rapport with the patient, and didn't expect to be sued by someone with whom they felt they had a positive relationship.

But much of that conventional "wisdom" is wrong, says medical defense attorney John M. Fitzpatrick, with Wheeler Trigg O'Donnell LLP in Denver, Colorado.

Fitzpatrick says it's somewhat of a myth that if a doctor and patient have good rapport, the patient most likely won't sue. "The medical field has been preaching about the bedside manner, saying that a doctor should let the patient know that you did your best, no matter how it turned out; and if you're warm and fuzzy, the patient won't sue you," says Fitzpatrick. "But bedside manner is very overrated.

"Doctors think that if they had good rapport with the patient, they won't get sued, and then they're surprised when it happens. But many patients see the opportunity to get some money, and they or their lawyers know that someone being sued will pay them to go away," says Fitzpatrick.

A physician may overestimate the depth of the rapport with the patient. And sometimes it's not the patient's initial desire to sue, but a family member or someone else talks them into it.

Malpractice defense attorney James L. Griffith, Jr, with Reger Rizzo & Darnall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said, "This issue of surprise raises a familiar question: Why did the patient who put trust in their physician for surgery or other medical conditions stop seeing the physician and choose instead to see a lawyer? Was the doctor trying to avoid discussing a bad outcome? Not being honest? Was the doctor too busy to recognize that there was a dissatisfied patient who felt that the physician was not listening, or did not care?

"I suspect that part of the problem is that in some cases, when a patient calls the office to get an appointment, they are told that the doctor has an opening 6 weeks from now," says Griffith. "You may not get to speak to the doctor without appearing for an appointment. There might not be an opportunity to tell the doctor what is happening. However, you can get an immediate appointment at the lawyer's office."

Mistakes, medication errors, and carelessness may account for many malpractice cases, but Fitzpatrick says that a major reason is that physicians are an easy target for people seeking big bucks. Even innocent physicians may want to settle just to end the suit. And plaintiff attorneys are very aggressive in attracting clients to sue doctors.


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