The majority of physicians will be sued during their career, yet the topic is largely taboo. This podcast for physicians discusses malpractice litigation and litigation stress. Start at the introduction, and work your way through; you'll hear the voices of docs who have been there, and advice from experts including psychologists and attorneys.
Theme music by @BenjaminBanger
Special Episode: Litigation Risk and COVID-19
Many listeners have sent in questions about litigation in this new era of COVID-19. They are infuriated after seeing advertisements from plaintiff's attorney firms already soliciting COVID-19 cases, while physicians and other front line health care providers risk our lives and the health of our families in an unprecedented crisis --when litigation should be the last thing we have to worry about. Physicians now wonder how protected will they be if their usual practice is disrupted, and there are delays in diagnosis or treatment. Or what if we send a patient with suspected COVID-19 home when they are stable, but they later worsen or die due to the unpredictability of this horrible virus? What if we are forced to ration ventilators or other scarce resources? Or if we are asked to practice outside our usual scope -- if an OB-Gyn is now working on the medicine floors, or a general internist is now working in the ICU, and there is an adverse event in that setting?
In this episode, Dr Pensa speaks with two malpractice defense attorneys about some general principles, and gets some reassurance.
Some states are adopting emergency measures that provide practitioners with additional protection, changing the standard for civil cases to 'gross negligence or willful misconduct'. But this does not mean the provider has blanket immunity from being sued at all. Lawsuits might still be filed that will need to be defended, even with this new standard (though likely fewer cases will be brought forth, because they will be much harder for plaintiffs to prevail). Because lawsuits can still be filed, and there are large costs associated with defending them from the start, it is imperative that you are properly insured for however your practice changes in this pandemic. We discuss considerations for retirees and volunteers, physicians who are changing the manner in which they see patients, and the importance of documenting circumstances in general.
Trial and Settlement
In this episode, we're on the road to trial -- and talking about settlement opportunities that may come up along the way. Who makes the decisions about going to trial vs offering/accepting a settlement? What factors go into those decisions? What's a consent to settle agreement -- and what's the hammer clause that comes with it?
If you're definitely headed to trial, how do you prepare -- practically and psychologically? And what can happen if there's a verdict against you and a judgment that exceeds your policy limits?
We'll be hearing from two defense attorneys, Dr. William Sullivan (a practicing physician and attorney, who has been a defendant himself) as well as Douglas Williams, Esq, a medical malpractice defense attorney in Baton Rouge, LA, with over 30 years of experience. We'll also hear the story of one physician's case as it progresses from medical encounter all the way to trial.
When Litigation Hits Home: Relationships and Litigation Stress
"Every member of the family is involved in a lawsuit." -Dr Greg Henry
Litigation often has a spillover effect on spouses/partners and families, whether or not the defendant physician acknowledges it. In this episode, I interview Dr. Claire Nicogossian, PsyD, a psychologist and clinical instructor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University (www.MomsWellBeing.com) We discuss common struggles that couples and families face during litigation, how to stay connected and communicative, and how to speak with children about litigation. Dr. Nicogossian describes some of the Gottman Institute's longitudinal research on couples, including the 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' in relationships that predict divorce/relationship failure (Criticism, Contempt, Stonewalling, and Defensiveness). She offers some practical advice, reassurance, and insight. Drs. Paccione, Andrew, and Henry, introduced in previous episodes, continue to offer their added insights.
Experts and Testiliars: Part Two
In Part Two of 'Experts and Testiliars' we continue to explore the world of unethical medical expert witnesses and their impact on defendants and the litigation system. You'll hear a presentation of Dr. Pensa's own malpractice case, as well as verbatim expert witness testimony from her second trial (acted out brilliantly by Dr. Anand Swaminathan as the plaintiff's expert). We also discuss what physicians can do to help attorneys identify and disempower 'testiliars' during litigation, what 'standard of care' actually means, and what recourse physicians can take after their case is completed if they feel they have been wronged by an unethical expert.
Louise Andrew MD JD, Greg Henry MD, and Jeff Segal MD JD add their expertise.
Experts and Testiliars: Part 1
In part one of this look at medical experts in malpractice litigation, we hear the story of Dr. M, a physician embroiled in a dramatic legal battle after the death of a patient, and his efforts to bring the medical expert in his case to justice. We speak more with Dr. Louise Andrew, MD JD, about the necessity and ethics of medical expert testimony, and hear the voices of physicians who have been defendants, plaintiffs, and experts themselves. And we examine the psychological impact that unethical, exaggerated, or misleading expert testimony has on defendant physicians, including the story of a physician who died by suicide after being accused of witness tampering.
D-Day: Preparing For Your Deposition
In this episode, we discuss the need for emotional, psychological, and practical preparation for your deposition. We hear from experts such as defense attorney Ryan Deady (of Barton Gilman, LLP) as well as Dr. Ilene Brenner, author of 'How to Survive a Medical Malpractice Lawsuit.' As always, you'll hear from physicians about their experiences as well. (Note: this is not concrete legal advice -- you need your lawyer for that. This is meant as a general guide to the process and what you might expect, but just like in medicine, every legal case is unique.)
PRIOR TO DEPOSITION: In addition to obtaining books and discussing with your attorney, you may find these points helpful. This is not comprehensive, but it's a start.
1) Study your chart well, and any other documents provided to you by your attorney. 2) Discuss whether to do any research about the medicine in question with your attorney -- there are pros and cons to this. 3) Know the weak spots in your case and your charting, and how you will articulate your thoughts about them 4) Practice answering difficult questions in a direct and succinct manner, avoiding providing extraneous information. 5) Discuss with your attorney how to handle questions about co-defendants. In general, avoid finger-pointing. 6) Know your 'arrows' and when to fire them (i.e., if you have a 'slam dunk' in your defense)--this is the exception to the 'don't explain too much' strategy. Your attorney will help you identify these points and how to get them into your testimony. 7) Plan for the day itself: make sure you're not on call or post-overnight, know what sharp, professional outfit you will be wearing, know where to be and when -- and plan something fun and relaxing that evening to decompress after it's done.
DURING DEPOSITION: 1) Pay attention to your attorney during the process -- they are with you for a reason. 2) Take your time answering questions; pause before speaking. 3) Do not answer any question until the question is complete. Do not interrupt or speak to fill in an awkward pause. 4) If a question has multiple parts or is confusing, ask the questioning attorney to break it down or rephrase it. Do not answer questions unless you know exactly what the question is. If the question seems out of 'left field' avoid over-explaining why it seems to be so. If you cannot answer the question as it's asked, say so and ask them to rephrase it. 5) Be aware of verbal traps such as double negatives, hypotheticals, overly vague questions or generalizations, or questions posed after a long series of statements or data. 6) If you don't remember or don't know, just say you don't remember or you don't know. Don't guess, and don't say anything you only 'think' you remember. Stick to what you're sure of. 7) Do not agree to calling any text, journal or article "authoritative". It's not. 8) You should look at hard copies of the chart or labs when asked direct questions about them -- but then stop flipping through the chart and pay attention to the next question. Do not direct their attention to any other parts of the chart or try to educate them. 9) Take a break whenever you need one. Refresh, recharge, and speak with your attorney in private. It's a long day. 10) When it ends, get far away from the building and into a safe space before you talk to your attorney about what went on in there. You never know who's listening, and anything they observe is fair game, even if it's not in the transcript.
So well done. Informative, honest, accurate. You are a great storyteller. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story and teaching through it. Bravo!
I devoured this podcast in 2 days...
And gave my husband the summary over dinner each night. I LOVE this podcast. My husband, dad and I are docs, are we often talk about the L word and the pain, fear and misery it brings to good people. Gita has done a wonderful service to us all!
Outstanding podcast about a topic that’s not talked about enough.
Dr. Pensa has done an incredible job with this podcast. It covers a rarely talked about topic that needs to be addressed by the healthcare system. I also hope malpractice attorneys listen to this, but I won’t be holding my breath for that. Recommended for all physicians and healthcare professionals as well as those who employ them.