Surgeon admits to lying in court to protect colleague—what you can do to protect yourself
Keeping a real-time medical journal is a useful tool for continuity or care, and as a records of events if something goes wrong
As a medical malpractice lawyer, for years I suspected that some doctors bent the truth when they are testifying in a lawsuit.
I cannot even remember how many times clients have come to me and said that a subsequent treating physician was critical of a prior hospital or doctor’s care and would back them up in court. I consistently tell them, “Don’t count on it. When it comes time to testify under oath in a deposition or courtroom, they usually circle the wagons and that type of testimony never materializes.”
It reminds me of a case that I handled years ago, when I represented a family who was trying to keep a family member alive in a Houston-area hospital.
They retained me when the hospital threatened to convene an ethics committee to override the patient’s wishes, enter a do not resuscitate (DNR) order into his records, and then ultimately withhold treatment to allow him to die.
The family said that the attending physician was supportive of them and was being pressured by the hospital end their loved one’s care. They said that they had spoken with the doctor multiple times in person and on the phone, and that she would back them up when the time came.
The hospital ended up having the ethics committee that they had threatened and, sure enough, voted to end the patient’s care, giving the 10-days’ minimal notice allowed by Texas law. I filed a lawsuit and took the hospital to court to get more time to find another facility to care for the patient.
At the hearing to get an injunction against the hospital, the hospital called the attending physician as a witness. The family was shocked, but sadly I was not all that surprised, when the doctor testified in favor of the hospital’s position, even though her testimony was inconsistent with the repeated conversations that she had had with family members.
A few years later, that doctor’s business manager called my office and asked if I would represent the physician in a lawsuit against the same hospital. The hospital had reduced the doctor’s staff privileges, which limited her ability to see patients and make money at that facility. The doctor’s business manager told me that everything I had argued in the court hearing a few years earlier was correct, and that the doctor had felt pressured by the hospital to lie. Needless to say, I declined to represent the doctor in her claims against that crooked hospital administration.
My experience is consistent with a surgeon’s recent admission that he lied on the witness stand in a medical malpractice case against his medical practice partner. The patient’s attorney had asked the surgeon if he had known of any time that his partner’s work had been substandard. The surgeon said, “No, never.” After two decades, the surgeon’s conscience caught up with him and he publicly admitted,” I lied.”
The surgeon explained, “Pressure is the prevailing attitude of the medical profession.” He added that he “did it because there was a cultural attitude that [he] was immersed in: You viewed all attorneys as a threat and anything that you did was OK to thwart their efforts to sue your colleagues.”
What you can do
I recommend that patients and their families keep a real-time diary or journal of what is going on with the patient medically, in terms of symptoms, treatments and statements made by doctors and nurses, tests ordered and their results, and any concerns or complications. There are two significant reasons for this.
First, in my experience as a medical negligence attorney, juries place a lot of credibility in what is written in the medical records. Part of this is likely because the medical records are often the only record of signs, symptoms, and care made in real time. Unfortunately, medical records never contain all of the information about the patient’s health status and medical care. On other occasions, the medical records contain inaccurate information. A real-time diary or journal can fill in the gaps and correct mistakes.
Second, a patient or family care diary or journal can assist with continuity of care. Nurses typically change shifts every 12 hours. Hospitalized patients encounter throngs of doctors from different specialties who pop in and out of rooms. The journal can keep information handy so you can ask thoughtful questions, follow up on test results, and ensure that nothing falls through the cracks with nurses or doctors.
We are here to help
If you or someone you care for has been seriously injured from medical malpractice, call 281-580-8800, for a free consultation with Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas. Our experienced medical malpractice lawyers know how to review the medical records and evidence to uncover the truth.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He represents patients and their families in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, doctors, surgeons, and anesthesiologists.
Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.
A physician has to supervise the care and prescriptions of nurse practitioners and physician assistants under written, signed agreements [...]read more
On 4/1/2018, the new law will end the current practice where doctors can secretly enter a DNR order against patient and family wishes [...]read more
A physician has to supervise the care and prescriptions of nurse practitioners and physician assistants under written, signed agreements
On 4/1/2018, the new law will end the current practice where doctors can secretly enter a DNR order against patient and family wishes
This article was originally published in the September/October 2017 edition of "The Houston Lawyer" magazine
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