February 1, 2013

Many Doctors Not Disciplined After Large Malpractice Settlements

by Levin & Perconti

Our Illinois med mal attorneys frequently discuss the deterrent role that lawsuits play in preventing future medical errors. As in any field, human behavior changes in response to causes and effects following certain outcomes. The consequences of paying for the losses incurred by a party in a medical malpractice lawsuit acts as a significant spur for medical professionals to change behavior to limit similar problems in the future. If there were little to no consequences for cutting corners, failing to triple check, or otherwise providing appropriate care 100% of the time, then it is easy to imagine that medical professionals would commit less time and resources to improving patient care.

State Accountability
The important role played by these lawsuits is amplified by the fact that most state regulatory systems do not have the ability to fully police the conduct of licensed professionals. There are many stories of various professionals continuing to work after harming many patients--or moving to a new state to work after losing a license in a different state. Relying solely on state or federal regulators to appropriately deter poor care inspires little confidence.

That is true throughout the country, not just in Illinois. For example, the State Journal recently discussed how Wisconsin handles (or fails to handle) punishment following possible medical malpractice. A story discussed how doctors who made even the most egregious errors often avoided punishment following medical malpractice settlements.

One man’s case was used as an example. The patient suffered from back and leg pain as a result of a work injury. To help deal with medical issues the man was schedule to have surgery on his right side--where the pain originated. However, the surgeon made the head-scratching mistake of performing the operation on the wrong side of his body--the left. The result was that the patient ended up with pain on both sides of his body.

Eventually a medical malpractice lawsuit was filed and a complaint was made with the state’s medical examining board. The suit was resolved before trial for nearly $3 million. Yet, the medical examining board did next to nothing to discipline the doctor. It is important to note that operation on the wrong body part is a “never” event--one of the most egregious medical errors that simply should never be made.

Unfortunately, journalists found that this one case was far from unique. Many other doctors committed similar errors, were forced to pay significant settlements, but faced no official sanction from state regulators. Were it not for the private residents exercising their rights to the justice system, then the medical professionals would have gotten away without any accountability.

The underlying point is that community members who are harmed as a result of poor medical care (or their loved ones) serve a vital safety role by coming forward and sharing stories of poor medical care. If you are in Chicago or throughout the state, please contact our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers today for tailored advice and support related to your situation.

See Other Blog Posts:

States Continue to Pass Misguided “Tort Reform” Laws

Med Mal Arbitration Decision Vacated