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Jury Decision Upheld in “False Light” Case Against Orthopaedic Association

The DC Medical Malpractice & Patient Safety blog published an interesting post last week that sheds light on a new court opinion which upheld a jury decision against a medical group known as the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). The blog post can be found here and a .pdf of the court opinion is here.

The situation is worth learning about, because it offers a glimpse inside one of these medical advocacy groups, reminding that “objectivity” and “honesty” are not necessarily the focal point of all of their actions. This case is a reminder of how much work still needs to be done before patient safety is the number one priority among medical professionals. Unfortunately, the culture of protecting one’s own–instead of being honest about medical errors or negligence–is still prevalent.

“Reckless Disregard for the Truth”
As the post on the case explains, the most recent court opinion was issued after an appeal of a jury verdict where the AAOS was found liable for a tort known as “false light invasion of privacy.” The AAOS was sued by a surgeon who was a member of the group. The surgeon was suspended for two years by the AAOS after that surgeon testified against a colleague in a medical malpractice case. Of course, in malpractice cases, each side generally brings forth experts to explain in their own opinion whether standards of care were violated. While there is usually no love lost between doctors who may see things differently in any given case, this disagreement should never devolve into retaliation or unfair attacks against those professionals who believe that those standards were violated.

After being suspended as a member of the AAOS, the doctor filed suit against them. Specifically, the suit alleged that the report by the AAOS on his suspension (accessible to the public) included verifiable inaccuracies. By creating the report and publicising it, the argument was that the Society had a “reckless disregard for the truth.” The case eventually went to trial and the jury agreed with the doctor. On appeal, the appellate court upheld the lower court decision.

The court explained how the suspension had very real economic harm on the doctor, as is essentially makes it impossible for him to work as an expert witness during that time. They further noted that the review process set up by the AAOS to monitor expert witnesses was far from unbiased. This setting ultimately led to unfair action against the surgeon who testified for the plaintiff in the original malpractice matter. Their overreach violated the civil law, and fortunately, the jury was able to provide some accountability.

Patient Safety At the Back of the Line
As this infighting between surgeons vividly demonstrates, there remains significant resistance to doctors who speak up against colleagues in legal matters. One does not have to be a leading patient’s rights advocate to understand the very real harm that exists when medical doctors have to fear professional repercussions when explaining how another doctor may have violated standards of care. Hopefully, the jury verdict in this case will act as some deterrent from other professional associations acting inappropriately against those who testify in medical malpractice cases.

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