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Why Do Doctors Get Away with Medical Malpractice?

If you made a mistake in your job that caused serious damage, you would probably feel the consequences. You would be held accountable for your errors and may even lose your job. How come the same doesn’t happen when doctors make a medical mistake that causes serious bodily injury, or even permanent damage?

The culture around doctors and hospitals does not encourage admitting to mistakes, even when they are pointed out in court. It is easier to deny anything went wrong, blame someone else, or try whatever they can to make the patient’s complaints go away. 

Medical errors are understandable. Anyone can make a mistake. But doctors should admit when they make a mistake that hurts patient care. Denying and fighting against any accidental injuries can cause additional stress for the injury victim, unnecessary expenses, and leave the patient without much faith in their medical care.  

If you believe you were injured because of malpractice but the doctor denies doing anything wrong, talk to someone who will stand by your side. For questions about medical malpractice claims to recover financial compensation, contact our office today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.  

How Common Is Medical Malpractice?

Unfortunately, medical malpractice injuries are more common than you may think. To put a grim number on medical malpractice, a Johns Hopkins study found that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America. 

In reality, the number may be even higher. Many deaths caused by medical mistakes are not identified as caused by medical errors. This also doesn’t take into account the millions of less costly mistakes that do not cause death but may lead to severe injuries. Despite advances in technology, new medicines, new surgical techniques, and improved diagnostic tools, malpractice deaths don’t seem to be dropping. 

One of the reasons it continues to be so common is that there are very few changes made even after a medical injury occurs. The researchers of the above study identified several “systemic problems in healthcare” that helped explain the scope of the problems, including:

  • Lack of accountability
  • The absence of safety nets
  • Poorly coordinated care
  • Fragmented insurance networks
  • Unwarranted variation in physician practice patterns 

What Are Common Types of Malpractice Injuries?

There are many types of medical malpractice injuries, from failing to admit an ill patient to the hospital to sending them home with the wrong prescription. Some more serious types of medical malpractice errors include:

It is important to remember that not every injury is caused by negligence. Not every mistake is a basis for a lawsuit. If a mistake doesn’t cause injury or harm, then it is generally not considered medical malpractice. For example, if a doctor wrote down the wrong age for the patient on a piece of paper but age was not a factor in their care, and the doctor later corrected the error, it is hard to find any harm or injury for a personal injury claim. 

Additionally, some injuries are just unfortunately side effects of a medical procedure. These side effects or complications can be unfortunate but they may be out of the hands of the doctors. Instead, malpractice requires a doctor to do something another reasonable doctor would not do, that caused an injury. 

What Kinds of Doctors Commit Medical Malpractice?

Any kind of doctor can be involved in a medical malpractice claim. Many serious medical treatments involve a team of medical professionals, including doctors, surgeons, nurses, physician assistants (PAs), and others. In the initial filing of a medical malpractice claim, anyone involved in the patient’s care may be named in the lawsuit, as a common practice of litigation in these cases. However, the claims are generally narrowed down to one or more doctors who deviated from medical standards in causing the damage. 

Some practice areas have higher rates of medical malpractice claims. According to a survey published in the New England Journal of Medicine, of 25 medical specialties analyzed between 1991 and 2005, the ten highest medical malpractice claims by specialty include:

What Stops Doctors From Doing the Right Thing?

If the doctor knows they did something wrong, why do they continue to deny the allegations? This can speak to the culture of healthcare and law in the U.S. Historically, the policy was “deny and defend,” if there was any claim of possible medical errors. The hospitals and malpractice insurance companies encouraged doctors to say nothing, admit nothing, and fight back against the injured patients claiming they were injured by a medical error. 

This may be the right thing for the medical insurance lawyers but it may not be the best thing for healthcare or the doctors involved. In a survey in the BMJ, 300 doctors were questioned about a hypothetical medical error and a majority of the doctors responded by not fully disclosing what went wrong. 

Doctors and the medical industry know what the right thing to do is and they continue to turn a blind eye. Doctors are bound by the ethical duties of disclosure to their patients. Doctors have an ethical duty to tell a patient when they made a mistake and what they can do to fix it. Research shows that if doctors did do the right thing, they wouldn’t face more malpractice claims. Instead, disclosure generally results in lower rates of litigation

Openness and Candor Can Improve Care for Patients

A study by the University of Michigan looked at the policies of the hospitals and the costs of litigation. Communication about errors with the patient and cooperation in addressing those injuries actually reduced medical malpractice lawsuits and lowered the costs of malpractice litigation. 

According to the journal, “Legal claims and costs decreased during a period when a major medical center in the United States told patients when it made mistakes and offered to compensate them for injuries. The findings suggest that such a program does not necessarily open hospitals or health systems up to more lawsuits and higher legal costs.”

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, recommends guidelines for medical providers to engage in communication after medical errors, known as CANDOR. “Communication and Optimal Resolution (CANDOR) is a process that health care institutions and practitioners can use to respond in a timely, thorough, and just way when unexpected events cause patient harm.”

CANDOR is a more patient-centered approach, to encourage proactive communication to fairly and amicably resolve medical error injuries. The 5 components of CANDOR include:

  • Identification of a CANDOR event
  • CANDOR system activation
  • Response and disclosure
  • Investigation and analysis
  • Resolution 

When it works, the patient’s concerns have been listened to and addressed openly instead of denied behind closed doors. The hospital can also benefit because it can apply what they have learned through the process to improve patient safety and prevent similar dangerous events from happening again in the future. 

A Few Doctors Cause Many Problems

Just about any doctor can be named in a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, medical malpractice claims are not evenly distributed across the medical community. According to a report by the Advisory Board, “Just 2% of doctors are responsible for 39% of malpractice claims. (And many of them just keep practicing.)”

How do these handful of doctors keep in practice after being involved in so many medical malpractice cases? One of the reasons has to do with the way medical malpractice cases are concluded. Even though many medical malpractice cases are handled as if they are going to a jury trial, the majority are settled before trial. 

As part of the settlement, the doctor expressly agrees that they are not admitting fault. Essentially, the doctor’s malpractice insurance company is agreeing to pay a certain amount to avoid a jury finding that the doctor committed medical malpractice. The doctor is paying to make the problem go away without having to say they did anything wrong. 

With the way the legal system in the U.S. works, settlements often make sense not just for the doctor but also for the injury victim. Trials are expensive, time-consuming, and put a lot of stress on the injury victim and their families. The outcome of a trial is also unpredictable. Even if the injured patient has a very strong case, the jury could focus on a minor issue and decide the case against the victim. A settlement is a guaranteed outcome that lets the patient receive compensation and avoid the stress of a trial. 

If Doctors Aren’t Held Accountable How Can Healthcare Improve?

One of the reasons why injury victims should come forward with their negligent treatment is to improve care for others. A malpractice claim can help the injury victim get money to pay for their injuries and hold the negligent doctor accountable. However, it can also make the medical industry sit up and take notice about how to make changes to improve care, to avoid having to pay for expensive mistakes. 

Unfortunately, according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, medical malpractice liability claims against doctors don’t do much to improve care or take these dangerous doctors out of practice. In a study of more than 480,000 physicians, 89% had no malpractice liability claims against them. Fewer than 9% had one claim in their career. The remaining 2.3% had 2 or more claims, which accounted for about 39% of all malpractice claims.  

An earlier study found that of medical malpractice cases where claims were paid out to patients, 1% of doctors accounted for about one-third of all claims. Instead of being taken out of practice, these doctors with multiple claims tended to relocate to other geographic areas and also to smaller practice settings, where they may be more unknown and be able to fly under the radar. 

According to the article, doctors with 5 or more medical malpractice claims were more than twice as likely to move into solo practice. Even when the medical community takes action against these problem doctors, the measures may only be temporary. Problems with probation, license suspension, losing hospital credentials, canceled medical malpractice and hits against their reputation can be cured by relocating to another area and getting their license back in another area.

Can a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Help After a Medical Injury?

If you think there was a problem with the care you received and the doctor or hospital does not admit to a mistake, that doesn’t mean it’s all in your head. Most doctors still fail to fully disclose what happens during a medical negligence accident. If you wait for the negligent doctor to suddenly do the right thing, you may be waiting awhile. 

Unfortunately, you don’t have a lot of time to decide whether to file a lawsuit or not. The statute of limitations for medical malpractice claims limits the amount of time the injury victim has to file a lawsuit. Depending on the state, it could be as little as 1 year in some states. In many states, including Illinois and Pennsylvania, the time limit is generally 2 years for medical malpractice claims. However, there could be exceptions that shorten or extend the time limit, so talk to your malpractice attorney as soon as possible to make sure you’re not too late. 

The best way to find out if you have a case is to talk to a professional. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer understands complex malpractice cases and can use the help of medical experts to review your case. They can identify if you have a case, who may be responsible, and how much you may be able to get in damages. 

Reach out to a medical malpractice law firm for legal advice. If you have questions about your legal rights after a medical injury, contact a law firm that handles medical malpractice cases just like yours. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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