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What You Should Know

Doctor Discipline: Does It Happen?

The answer is: Rarely. Regrettably.

A medical malpractice case is meant to help the victims of malpractice and their families. If successful, it can pay for necessary medical care, make up for lost wages, and compensate for pain and suffering.

It typically does not have any impact on the at-fault doctor and his or her practice, however. Any verdict or settlement is paid by their malpractice insurance carrier. Even if the victim is awarded a multi-million dollar settlement, the doctor is unlikely to feel that in his or her pocketbook and be motivated to make a change.

Many hope that even without any financial impact, making a doctor aware of the harm they have caused will motivate them to change their ways. People want to feel they have made a difference for the next patient. Unfortunately, this is also rarely true.

When deposing doctors who are accused of committing malpractice we frequently hear them say that, in hindsight, they would not have done anything differently—even when their actions caused their patient to suffer catastrophic injury or death. Of course, this is partially in defense of their position in the lawsuit, but I’m sure many of them believe it. To practice medicine and make the decisions they have to make they can’t second guess themselves all the time.

I’d like to think a doctor faced with malpractice allegations would take the opportunity to learn a lesson rather than letting ego take over, especially when the consequences are so potentially dire. But, unfortunately, I seldom see it take hold.

This is disheartening to many clients and potential clients who, more than they want money, want to make sure that what happened to them, never happens to anyone again.

But what about the doctor’s license? Surely, if they won’t learn a lesson for themselves, the Board of Medicine (the body responsible for licensing and disciplining doctors) will teach it to them.

This outcome is vanishingly rare. A recent report shows that less than 3% of complaints filed with the Department of Health even make it through the “probable cause” stage to receive a full investigation by the Board of Medicine and even fewer of those result in actual discipline.

That is why there are doctors who have been involved in multiple malpractice suits, even multiple malpractice suits that resulted in payoffs by the doctor, still practicing. That’s why we receive calls about many of the same doctors over and over again and, indeed, have sued the same doctors multiple times. And that’s just within our one firm!

The bottom line is that, while plaintiff’s attorneys continue to fight the good fight to help the victims of bad doctors, we cannot do it alone. The Florida Legislature (and the legislatures of nearly every state) actively impede our efforts to hold doctors accountable for their bad actions because the doctors, the healthcare industry, and their insurance companies have a lot of money and a great deal of influence to spend bending the laws to their purposes.

Despite good intentions by many caring and conscientious healthcare professionals (They do exist! Most doctors do go into the profession to try to help people.), the medical profession is not doing enough to regulate itself. Your lawyer is much more likely to be disciplined for an error than your doctor and, no matter how grave the legal error, it is unlikely to kill you.

Sadly, when it comes to medical care, the rule is very much, let the patient beware.