A physician writes in the New York Times about her own emotionally trying experience being sued for malpractice by a patient’s family, and seeing the case dropped after four long years of litigation. The case happened to be against an internist for colon cancer, something where I have fresh experience. Here is the text of my comment on the Times’ website:
In Dr. Savitsky’s account, it’s hard to understand how an internist would be sued for a patient’s colon cancer, and many commenters railed that this was an example of “frivolous” lawsuits or patients suing their doctors for being guilty of mere human error.
I know nothing of the facts of Dr. Savitsky’s case. But I do know how an internist can come to be sued for colon cancer. I just mailed a settlement check today to my client, a widow who lost her husband at age 59 from an entirely curable colon cancer. We successfully sued her husband’s internist for egregiously failing on multiple occasions to follow basic rules of medical practice in treating middle-aged men. I wrote more about this case a few months ago on Huffington Post.
Yes, there are occasions when our litigation system bruises people who don’t deserve it. Far more often, it is the only way that ordinary folks have to call to account those who have broken the rules and caused serious harm.
There are many other thoughtful responses to the doctor’s column on the Times’ site. Here is just one:
I have very mixed feelings about all of this.
It’s easy for outsiders to pass judgment on how the patient/family is supposed to feel after a bad outcome. It’s easy to apply cheap armchair psychology and decide the family is angry, or in denial, or looking for someone to blame, or that they have a lottery mentality or that they don’t know how to constructively handle their grief. The attitude seems to be that they should just shut up and be grateful for the health care they received.
Unless it’s happened to you, you really have no idea of how you’re “supposed” to feel. Take it from someone who’s been there: I was truly shocked at the level of rage and depression I experienced. I never, ever thought I would say this, but I now understand a lot better why some people sue… and I am a lot less likely to judge them harshly for it.
That said, I appreciate Dr. Savitsky’s story and I’m glad she shared it. If only we could have heard the family’s side of the story as well. Maybe then we would all have a better understanding of what the experience is like on both sides of the fence. Because right now, judging from the conversation here, most of us don’t understand.