If you have a health concern and are planning to see a doctor, your focus is probably (and properly) on yourself. Will it be a serious diagnosis? Will your illness be life-changing? Are there effective treatments? You may not be thinking much about your doctor at all, except as the source of answers to your questions.
Usually, it is only after something has gone wrong in your treatment that you wonder about your doctor’s background and history. Is your current problem the result of medical malpractice? Has your doctor committed malpractice before? How do you find out, and what do you do next?
Over the course of a career, many doctors have a claim filed against them for medical malpractice. If a doctor has seen hundreds or even thousands of patients, it is statistically likely that at least one patient will be dissatisfied with an outcome and sue. But not every case that doesn’t end well is the result of malpractice, and many of these claims go nowhere.
So while it is not surprising that many doctors are sued for malpractice, what is surprising is the breakdown of which doctors have had a claim against them paid. According to a study from Stanford University and the University of Melbourne, 1% of all practicing physicians accounted for 32% of all paid medical malpractice claims. The study, which looked at over 66,000 malpractice claims, found that about a third of them were paid. (The study focused on paid claims because payment on a claim suggests that the standard of care was violated.)
One percent of doctors account for 32% of claims. That’s pretty striking. What’s more, that 1% of practicing physicians shared some other characteristics. They tended to be older and male, and concentrated in a few specialties: general practice, general surgery, internal medicine, and obstetrics and gynecology.
The study also found that the greatest predictor of a future malpractice claim was the number of past claims. The more paid malpractice claims a doctor had in the past, the more they were likely to have in the future.
This is why you should give some thought in advance to whether your doctor has been sued for medical malpractice. One or two unpaid claims shouldn’t be a deal breaker; multiple paid claims should definitely give you pause. Here’s how to find out if your doctor has been sued.
There are a number of places you can go to investigate your physician’s history of medical malpractice claims, starting with state medical licensing boards. You can get a list of state medical boards from the Federation of State Medical Boards; remember that your physician may have practiced in another state before moving to yours. Or you can do a nationwide physician search on the nonprofit Administrators in Medicine (AIM)’s Doc Finder.
You may want to search a little more broadly if you expect to have a hospital stay in the near future, such as to recover from a surgery. In that case, you will want to consult your state health department to see if any claims or complaints have been made against the hospital where you will be treated. The CDC keeps a list of state health departments.
It may take a little more legwork, but you can also search local court records to see if your doctor has been sued and to learn the details of the lawsuit. You may not be able to see every malpractice case that has been filed or paid; some are confidential. And you may find out more than you wanted to know about your doctor’s divorce and other non-medical litigation he or she has been involved in. But if your earlier research suggests that your doctor has had malpractice claims, you may want to go to the effort of finding out more.
If you’re not prepared to dig through court files, you can use the high-tech, low-effort technique of plugging your doctor’s name into an internet search engine, along with phrases like “medical malpractice,” “negligence,” “complaint,” and “lawsuit.”
Last but not least, you have the right to ask your doctor, “Have you ever been sued for medical malpractice? If so, how many times, and were any of the claims paid?” That said, it’s understandable that many people feel uncomfortable asking such pointed questions, especially to a doctor who could be holding their lives in their hands.
If you discover a doctor who is going to treat you has been sued for medical malpractice, you may want to consider switching to another physician. Don’t worry about hurting the doctor’s feelings or offending them; you won’t. And even if you did, your health is more important than their feelings.
If you discover that a doctor who has already treated you has been sued for malpractice, you may have some decisions to make. If you learned about the claims against your doctor because you yourself had an unexpected bad outcome and started to research your physician, you may want to consider making a claim yourself. Remember that medical malpractice claims are subject to a relatively short statute of limitations. If you don’t make a claim within the allowed time frame, you lose your right to do so.
If you suspect medical malpractice, you should consult an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss your concerns, even if you are not 100% sure malpractice took place. A knowledgeable attorney will listen to the facts of your situation and help you decide if a claim is worth pursuing.
If you have questions about whether your doctor has been sued for medical malpractice, or about medical malpractice in general, we invite you to contact Huegli Fraser to schedule a consultation.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
© 2021 Huegli Fraser PC