ABC News reported today that according to the AMA most doctors will face only one medical malpractice lawsuit throughout their entire careers. First, we must consider that
The survey was funded by the AMA and more than 40 national medical specialty associations.
The report found that
While physicians are likely to be subject to a lawsuit at some point in their careers, only about 5 percent of physicians are sued in any given year, the report found.
The AMA states that
"This litigious climate hurts patients’ access to physician care at a time when the nation is working to reduce unnecessary health care costs," said AMA immediate past president Dr. J. James Rohack in a prepared statement.
That’s silly. Let’s think about this for a second. We have been hearing about the so-called "medical malpractice lawsuit crisis" for years, yet the evidence is that doctors will be sued once in their entire career. In other words, we are to believe that it is frivolous to think that doctors will make only a single mistake in their entire career? Most doctors that I know are human, and last I checked all humans make mistakes.
And that’s okay. Too many doctors think that getting sued is an indictment on their entire career. It isn’t. A lawsuit means that a doctor made a single mistake. But that mistake often causes great harm to an individual and/or her family. Our civil justice system–which is such a critical part of our nation’s foundation that it is protected by the bill of rights–says that the person who is responsible for injury pays for it. Is that so irrational? Is that somehow unfair?
What is irrational is the AMA’s implicit view that doctors don’t make mistakes. Is it hard to believe that a doctor at some point in his or her career makes a mistake? Of course not. And making a single mistake doesn’t make someone a bad doctor. Getting sued doesn’t make someone a bad doctor.
It is important to know that a lawsuit doesn’t impact a doctor’s ability to practice medicine. State medical boards control whether a doctor’s license is suspended or revoked. So a civil lawsuit has no bearing on a doctor’s ability to continue helping others and making a living.
All a lawsuit says is that "hey, you made a mistake this time and it hurt someone." In our country, when people make mistakes–including doctors–they have to be responsible for the injury. So our civil justice system shifts the burden of that injury from the person hurt to the person who caused the injury. That’s all. Is that wrong?
I think the vast majority of doctors are extraordinary people working very hard to help others. But that doesn’t make them super-human and infallible. I also understand that getting sued can be a traumatic event. But the AMA’s study proves that lawsuits aren’t out of control. If anything, they are rare when you consider that most people probably make more than one mistake in his or her life. In fact, the Institute for Medicine has reported that 98,000 people die each year from medical errors. All the civil justice system–and lawsuits–ask is that the person who made the mistake compensate the person injured.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.