Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Should Physicians Go Bare?

How much medical malpractice insurance should a physician carry? Most doctors go for the minimum seven figure insurance coverage. Some opt to buy even more. But does buying more malpractice insurance encourage more and bigger lawsuits? I've heard arguments that doctors should go bare, thereby leaving themselves a smaller target for lawyers. Who is correct? The following case may help answer some of the questions.

A family in Los Angeles has just settled a medical malpractice suit for over $4 million due to a bad circumcision. According to the suit, Dr. Anthony Pickett of the Maternity Center of Vermont accidentally amputated 85% of the baby's glans penis during attempted circumcision. The boy will need multiple corrective surgeries for years to come along with psychiatric care "to deal with the trauma of this incident and resultant surgeries" according to their lawyers. The defendant who will pay this settlement is Integra Life Sciences Holding Corp., maker of the Mogen clamp (warning graphic images in that link) that was used in the surgery. According to the plaintiffs the design was defective which prevented the doctor from seeing the circumcision site adequately, leading to the penile amputation.

What about Dr. Pickett? It seems that Dr. Pickett carried no medical malpractice insurance. He was subsequently dropped from the suit. Though I'm sure Dr. Pickett feels badly about what happened, at least now he can go back to practice without a multimillion dollar judgement hanging over his head.

Does anyone suppose that if Dr. Pickett carried $1 million of malpractice insurance he would be dropped from the lawsuit? What about if he had $3 million, as many doctors carry? I find it unlikely. Like moths to a light bulb, lawyers will gather around the defendant with the deepest pockets, no matter who is at fault and to what degree. The defense lawyer in this case will walk away with $1.38 million. This was justified, the lawyer said, because this case required "extraordinary research, diligent work-up, creative lawyering, and hundreds of hours of hard work." Hmm. Isn't that their job anyway, to represent people regardless of the amount of reward at the end of the case? And how hard is it to try this case when there already have been other successful multimillion dollar product liability suits against the Mogen clamp? It seems this case could have been won on precedent alone. How hard is that?

1 comment:

  1. At least this case was clear negligence. I can't comment on the size of the award.

    Recent Florida verdicts have been similarly impressive, but for not such good reasons. A 34 year od man with end stage congenital heart disease shopped all over the country for some paliative treatment,only to be told it was too dangerous and just live your life. A Florida surgeon took the challenge, but of course, the patient died as a result of intractible post op congestive failure and pneumonia. The verdict- $4.4 million with surgeon 50% and anesthesiologist 50%. So what was paid? Surgeon (no insurance) settled on the courthouse steps for $70,000- plus about the same in his own legal fees. Anesthesiologist had $1mm coverage but policy paid out $2.2 million as they had the opportunity to settle for the policy limits and refused.

    The travesty was patient had a major center in his home town that was renoun for this surgery. They told him end stage meant 6 months. A tear jerker home video said $4.4 million or $.8 million per year, in NFL terms.