MLMIC Member Testimonial: Reflections on Being a Defendant in a Medical Malpractice Case

The following is a testimonial from one of MLMIC’s policyholders.

At a county medical society meeting in September of 2012, I heard a MLMIC representative say, “It’s lonely to be a defendant in a medical malpractice case.” Truer words were never spoken.

From the beginning of my recent experience as a defendant in a malpractice case, I decided I would use this as a learning tool – for me and for others. I made the conscious decision not to shout my being sued from the rooftops, but not to make any attempt to hide it, and to discuss it openly. I did this to counteract the common feeling among physicians that being sued is like a piece of dirty laundry, to be hidden from colleagues. Instead, it’s part of the professional and personal life of so many doctors in today’s world. When sharing my experiences with other physicians who had been sued, they felt relieved that they were not alone and often went on to describe their own experiences.

My personal experience of the courthouse is that it’s a somber, depressing place. Everyone seems to be trying to take advantage of everyone else, the truth be damned. That may not be how it really is, but that’s sure how it felt to me. Nothing starts on time. Few seem to be working hard. You do feel terribly alone. It’s not like our medical offices.  You can’t talk to your own experts, and the only person who has your back is your attorney.

I vastly underestimated the effort and passion that attorneys put into these cases. My attorney knew the case as well as I did. He woke up at night, with a pad and pen by his bed, writing when he had a thought about the case that he didn’t want to forget by morning. He lived the case, along with me. I can’t imagine how these attorneys can go from one trial to the next, without feeling emotionally and physically exhausted. It’s as tough as anything I’ve ever done. They deserve our gratitude.

So what were the toughest times for me as a defendant? The first is certainly at the end of the plaintiff’s case, when you have been called a liar, a falsifier of records, deceitful with the patient, and incompetent. No one has spoken up for you yet, except you, and even then, the plaintiff’s attorney won’t let you just tell the story, as you would to a colleague. They purposely say things they know will be stricken from the record, but the jury hears anyway. You begin to have doubts, about yourself, and the fairness of this process: Am I a competent physician?

Hearing your colleagues defend you feels so much better. I would have hugged them all if I could, and when I learned about how they had to juggle their schedules to accommodate the judge’s timetable, I was even more appreciative.

The second worst time is after the plaintiff’s summation, as they get the last word. You just hope the jury remembers what your attorney said (my attorney’s closing was brilliant). After closing remarks, defendants can lose objectivity and want to bail out. My attorney helped me maintain my objectivity. We declined a settlement offer made by the plaintiff, and went on to win the case.

I have come away from all this with a visceral appreciation of the importance of what we all do as doctors on a daily basis, and with a new appreciation of the protection provided by my liability insurer MLMIC, and their defense counsel.

MLMIC Policyholder, 10+ Years
Kings County, NY