What Happens if You Get Sued?

Kyle Claussen

According to the 2015 Medscape Malpractice Report, 59% of physicians who responded were named in at least one malpractice suit. This study is supported by other similar studies that place this number anywhere from 55% to 65% out of the total physician population. For high-risk specialties, such as OB/GYN or orthopedic surgery, this number climbs even higher. By the age of 65, over three quarters of physicians have experienced a claim.

The likelihood of physicians being sued is higher than ever and malpractice claims have unfortunately become an expected part of the medical business. As a physician, you must be prepared to deal with litigation. While it can be unpleasant to assume that one of your patients may eventually bring a suit against you, preparation is key in ensuring that the legal process goes as smoothly as possible. We will go over what happens when you get sued and what you can do to successfully navigate the process.

What to Expect

Malpractice lawsuit proceedings can be exceedingly long and arduous, with many lasting several years. This process is defined by a few steps which you will need to be aware of so that you can be ready. The first step involves being notified of a claim. You will find out about a claim either through mail or through an in-person process server. Once you have been notified, it is imperative that you report the claim to your medical malpractice insurance carrier. This gives you more time to build your defense and make all of the necessary preparations.

The next step is to work with your claims representative and a defense attorney to build your case. Your defense attorney will conduct a thorough investigation. This starts with contacting all of the doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers whose care was related to the malpractice claim and obtaining the relevant medical records. Also, expert witnesses will be selected to testify on your behalf.

The final step is the actual trial. The judge will hear the evidence and testimonies of both the defendants and plaintiffs and a verdict will be reached. Keep in mind that during this entire process, the plaintiff’s attorney may make a demand to settle, meaning that both parties reach a resolution outside of court. Make sure to work closely with your attorney and claims representative to determine if this is the best course of action.

Play Your Role

If you want to strengthen your case and increase your chances for success, you should be actively involved in the litigation process. Working closely with an attorney and being willing to help out at every stage of the process is key to a successful outcome. Also, knowing the strategy behind your defense is critical when you have to testify in court. Realize that just because you are being sued, it doesn’t necessarily mean you did anything wrong. This mindset will allow you to feel much more comfortable in dealing with this unavoidable reality of medicine.

Path to Success

If you haven’t had any experience with the legal process before, it is likely to seem very foreign to you. A good attorney will prepare you for depositions and trial testimony through practice and understanding the plaintiff’s perspective. If you understand the plaintiff’s basic strategy, then you can better build your defense to counter it. Preparation, consistency, and confidence can be a potent combination in getting a good outcome.

Providing Testimony

Just like every other part of the legal process, you need to rely on the advice of your attorney when preparing for and giving your testimony. Testimony is your chance to explain your side, support your argument with medical facts, and connect with the jury. Remember that your defense is a team approach and the testimony is no exception. You should be collaborating with your attorney, insurance carrier, and medical experts in order to create a cohesive stance.

Providing an effective testimony is vital, especially because the plaintiff’s attorney will be ruthless in trying to portray you as an incompetent and irresponsible physician. Make sure that you listen to each question carefully and speak in your own terms. Your attorney should role-play with you leading up the trial to try to test your composure and find potential holes or flaws in your testimony. Exposing yourself to this sort of scrutiny will be challenging, but it is necessary in order to properly prepare.

Rely on Your Team

Being sued is an unfortunate and nearly inevitable part of being a physician. Beyond being an emotionally taxing event, it can also be monetarily costly and time-consuming. The best approach you can take is to rely on a legal team to guide you through the process. Being a proactive team player, understanding the plaintiff’s legal strategy, and practicing your testimony are all vital  to successfully defending yourself in a malpractice suit.