In the February 1, 2008 issue of Medical Economics, Gastroenterologist Michael Cappell tells the story of the time he got sued in a shotgun malpractice case. Even though innocent of wrongdoing, he still paid a hefty professional and personal price. Shabby treatment of health care professionals discourages the good ones from practicing medicine and they will not be there to help the sick when they are needed because the lawyers have driven them from the field. Here is part of what Dr. Cappell says about the personal toll on him:
From a societal perspective, justice was served. Except for the elderly physician, who faced trial for malpractice, the court dismissed claims against all of the other 16 physicians originally named in the lawsuit.
From my perspective, however, justice was poorly served. I spent about 20 hours on the lawsuit before it was dismissed—and another 10 hours afterward explaining it to prospective employers and malpractice carriers. Psychologically, the suit took a greater toll, especially when I felt that my academic career as a clinical gastroenterologist might be in jeopardy.
All this wasted time and emotional distress was unnecessary.
First, by merely certifying as to the factual basis of the claims against me, the plaintiff's attorney was able to include me in the case. Given the potential harm to practicing physicians, shouldn't malpractice claims always be preceded by a medical expert's signed affidavit, as at least 16 states now require?
Second, when doctors are dismissed from a lawsuit without any settlement, shouldn't courts expunge any mention of the original litigation from the records? In the current system, physicians are not only considered guilty until proven innocent, they're still regarded as suspect after claims against them have been dropped.