An article in a recent issue of General Surgery News, a trade publication for surgeries, examines the impact of medical malpractice litigation on general surgeons and several specialty areas of surgery. The article looks at recent statistics and discusses the merits of fighting malpractice lawsuits versus settling them quickly. It concludes that doctors are usually better off, in the long run, fighting lawsuits. The analysis tends not to be favorable towards medical malpractice plaintiffs and their attorneys, but it does offer a good glimpse of how surgeons might approach a malpractice claim.
A recent survey by the American Medical Association reportedly found that five percent of respondents had faced a malpractice claim of some sort during the previous year. Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011 found that, after neurosurgeons and thoracic surgeons, general surgeons have the next-highest rate of malpractice claims. The study reviewed twenty-four surgical specialties. In an average year, it found that 15.3% of general surgeons will have at least one claim brought against them.
Doctors rarely have the exclusive authority to decide whether to settle a case, as a doctor’s malpractice insurance carrier will typically handle the expense of legal representation. The author of the article advises surgeons against settling in most cases. He notes that, first and foremost, settlement can be interpreted as an admission of fault, even if the settlement’s purpose is to avoid even costlier litigation. Many settlement agreements include a clause specifying that the defendant does not admit liability, but settlement agreements do not get publicity beyond the parties to a dispute. Settling a lawsuit can also lead to problems further down the road, as the board of medicine of a doctor’s state may wish to review the matter itself, and the doctor’s name may appear in databases that catalog malpractice claims.
Of particular note to personal injury attorneys is the discussion of how surgeons can avoid lawsuits. There is little to no correlation, the article states, between the degree of risk in a surgical procedure and the rate of malpractice claims. In other words, riskier procedures are not necessarily at the greatest of a claim. Rather, it is a matter of the doctor’s relationship with the patients and the patient’s family. The better the communication between patient and doctor, the less likely the patient is to claim malpractice.
Surgeons can therefore protect themselves as best they can against lawsuits by encouraging communication with their patients. This is good advice for patients as well as doctors. A crucial component of a doctor-patient relationship is the presence of informed consent. This means that a doctor has informed the patient of the nature of the treatment and all of the risks reasonably associated with it, and that the patient understands the treatment and the risks and has consented to the treatment. Patients and doctors alike should document all steps of communication. For patients who do have a complaint, it can help establish what a doctor did or did not tell the patient.
The Maryland injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen represent the rights of people who have suffered injury from malpractice by medical professionals. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us online or at (800) 654-1949.
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