What happens when a trusted family doctor commits malpractice?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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When malpractice is committed by a doctor with whom a plaintiff has a long-standing relationship with based on respect and familiarity, a slew of difficult and often emotional considerations come into play. In any case, those who suspect they are victims of medical malpractice should consider filing suit if significant damages are involved—physical or financial. 

If a malpractice victim does not exercise his or her rights under the law in a prompt and legally-appropriate manner, there can be dire consequences for the potential plaintiff and family. Jeopardizing financial or medical standing is far more dangerous than damaging a relationship with a long-term medical care provider. Put bluntly, there are thousands of doctors, but health is uniquely important.

By definition, a successful malpractice case is one in which a plaintiff can easily and definitively prove that a doctor caused damage. Assuming the plaintiff has incurred medical costs and other financial burdens (in addition to any attendant pain and suffering), a plaintiff with a good case who decides against filing suit only to preserve a relationship with their doctor will needlessly absorb the cost of medical bills, lost wages, pain/suffering and emotional distress. This seems grossly unfair considering the doctor caused the injuries and attendant costs.

Liability Insurance – A Buffer for Doctors

All doctors are required by law to carry malpractice insurance. Plaintiffs should be aware that insurance generally funds a doctor’s defense and pays for any settlements or verdicts. The chances of causing a doctor to lose their livelihood in a lawsuit are minimal. Doctors carry medical liability insurance specifically in the case of a lawsuit. 

Most doctors are sued multiple times over the course of their careers. They know that it is a hazard of the profession, and more enlightened doctors will admit that they are not immune to mistakes. Liability insurance provides doctors with a buffer against both legitimate and frivolous lawsuits. Potential plaintiffs should be more concerned with their own well-being—doctors are insured against malpractice, patients are not. 

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Holding Your Doctor Accountable May Prevent Future Malpractice

Another important consideration regarding is that plaintiffs can help protect others from similar experiences. If a doctor has truly been negligent and violated the standard of care in one person’s case, he or she may have done, or will do, the same in someone else’s. A doctor’s negligence may have been occurring over years. This, unfortunately, can often be the case with doctors nearing the end of their careers. And when a doctor is reluctant to admit and/or correct a mistake, as is the case too often, only when taken to task, as in the case of a lawsuit, will a doctor be forcibly held accountable for his or her wrong actions. While this may not engender goodwill between patient and physician, it can spark a change in behavior in the doctor that could prevent further malpractice. It can ultimately save lives. 

Most states maintain a database of medical malpractice suits allowing patients and potential patients to be informed before visiting a particular doctor. In the most extreme of scenarios, a doctor that is sued for malpractice a number of times may lose his or her insurance and be forced out of practice. This means a bad doctor is out of the profession and incapable of injuring patients. 

A Patient’s Health Should Come First

Regardless of the length and tenor of a potential plaintiff’s relationship with a physician, their well-being, both physical and financial, should come first. A consultation with a professional, discrete and knowledgeable attorney will be of utmost importance, and should be undertaken as soon as malpractice is suspected. Seasoned malpractice attorneys are adept at handling delicate situations such as the one outlined above, and can often make an arduous process easier to bear.

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