Recently a physician asked “I have never been sued, but what is it like?” I have witnessed the legal process from Notice of Intent through Jury Trial and at first blush should be an easy question to answer… but it is not. First, I have never been sued for medical malpractice as I am not a physician. Secondly, I have witnessed a variety of reactions and believe it is different for everyone. The following will outline some points for consideration as we attempt to answer “What is it like to be sued?” in common speak.
- Incident – Often the process begins with an unhappy patient, challenging outcome, or frustrated family member. This can be a time to contact the risk management department at your insurance company for advice on how to best navigate the situation. Should you receive a complaint or notice from a plaintiff attorney we would recommend you contact your Medical Professional Liability Insurance Company’s claims department immediately. Don’t forget, your agent is a great resource to get you pointed in the right direction.
- Preparation – Once an event has been reported to your insurance carrier, you would typically meet with the assigned claims specialist to do an initial review. Some background work often goes into this by reviewing medical records or doing interviews in person or by phone. Typically a defense attorney is assigned. They will assist in managing this process with your claims representative.
- Fact Finding – As you enter the “discovery phase” specific requests will be made of you. STOP! THIS IS CRITICAL – Whenever you receive a legal request by the other party, speak to your claims advisor and defense counsel first! Depositions are typically taken and are not a very fun part of the process. Words can be twisted. Questions will be asked in many different ways, multiple times.
- Courtroom – If a lawsuit is taken all the way to trial, it can be challenging as you will be in the courtroom of your local community. You will spend time away from work and family. You may even have second thoughts. However; I have heard a resounding response of relief, happiness, and belief in one’s self and practice when a verdict of “Not Guilty” is returned.
It is a challenging decision to determine whether you will go to trial or settle a lawsuit, especially when this process can take many years. Seek advice from your defense counsel, claims advisor, insurance agent, and colleagues. Some Professional Liability companies have networks set up so that you can speak to other physicians who have experienced these events first hand. At the end of the day, you must feel good about the course you choose. Not only today, but ultimately at retirement.