The Undeniable Truth about Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

April 25, 2014
Setu Mazumdar, MD, CFP

Physicians who are sued in a medical malpractice case always lose no matter what the outcome. There's only one way to successfully fight back.

One of my clients—an emergency medicine physician—called me the other day. Usually, this guy is laidback, but this time he was the most anxious and stressed out I’ve ever seen.

He’s been practicing medicine for 14 years and he’s been sued twice. He lost the first case and the second case has been pending for the past 5 years.

But a few days back he got hit with his third lawsuit. That’s when panic set in.

“Will my insurance premiums go up?”

“Will my group fire me?”

“Will I be stripped of my license to practice medicine?”

“How can I protect my assets?”

“Practicing medicine sucks today and it’s only going to get worse.”

Don’t get me wrong. He’s a really smart guy and a great clinician, and if I ever get injured or have to go the ER, I want him to be my doctor.

When he told me about his latest lawsuit, here’s what I said to him: “You’ve already lost the case.”

“What do you mean by that?” he asked.

“Think about it. Let’s say the case goes all the way to trial and the jury sides with you. What compensation did you get for your pain and suffering? Did anyone pay you for the time and mental anguish you suffered and how that affected your work, your family, and the rest of your life? Suppose you’re dismissed from the case. Do you get any money?”

Of course the answers to those questions are “No.”

You see, if you’re a physician and you’re sued in a medical malpractice case, you always lose no matter what the outcome. No one gives you any compensation for the abuse you have to go through to prove your case.

If I were the ruler of the world—which someday I hope to be—then I would create a “loser pays” system.

You lose. You pay. Some might call this revenge. I call it fairness.

The problem right now for physicians is that if you “win” you still lose.

In which other job or career would someone voluntarily continue working when you lose 100% of the time if you make a mistake that usually isn’t your fault?

Patients, hospitals, insurance companies, and your corporate employers demand perfection from you with every patient even though it’s impossible for you to attain. The volume of patients you have to see and the number of procedures you have to do make it certain that you will make mistakes.

The problem is that no one cares how busy you are and how that can lead to poor patient outcomes. Perfection is not demanded of you—it’s expected—without regard to the consequences.

If you want to win, don’t lobby the government for tort reform, throw money at your elected officials, or pay more fees to medical associations. That’s a losing game. The government and the rest of society will never accept the loser pays system.

Instead, invest in yourself and take the time to manage your finances and investments properly—or hire someone who walks in your shoes, resonates with you, and acts in your best interests to manage them for you.

Once you get that straightened out and you’ve built up enough reserves, you don’t have to put up with the insurmountable odds the medical malpractice system has forced on you.

Instead, you can make work optional and quietly walk away if you want and let your physician colleagues waste their time fighting a battle in a war that has already been lost.