What medical types don’t understand

I’m fortunate enough to practice both law and paramedicine regularly.  As a result, I see a lot of ignorance where lawyers don’t understand medicine.  Namely, that lawyers continue to mislead the lay public that a bad outcome equals malpractice.

But I find healthcare types regularly blaming lawyers for so-called “defensive medicine.”  The latest one of these came from the respected (well, as respected as a blog can be) physician blog KevinMD.  The blog posted an opinion piece about a Boston jury awarding over $4 million in a malpractice verdict for an emergency department physician misdiagnosing a patient who later died of viral myocarditis.

Let me tell you again (because I’ve blogged about this before) what a jury verdict or a settlement should mean to the average healthcare provider, whether a CNA, paramedic, or attending physician at a world renowned medical school — NOTHING. Zero. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Nil.  You get the message.  A jury verdict, settlement, or even a plaintiffs’ firm’s press release have no binding legal authority.   They are meaningless except, perhaps, maybe to the specific case at hand.

So, then, what law should a healthcare provider pay attention to?  Quite simply — federal and state statutes in your jurisdiction, including the administrative regulations adopted by your jurisdiction’s licensing/regulatory authorities.  Also, you should pay attention to reported case law from appellate courts in your federal and state jurisdictions.  These are the laws and interpretations of law that you’re under.   Nothing else. Not even on odd-numbered Thursdays.

So, in short, to my fellow healthcare providers — learn the law.  Learn to recognize the phobias of law.  Learn to recognize and avoid panic and hysteria over any jury verdict you hear in the news. And learn when to call BS.  And just like you get mad when someone consults Uncle Ernie instead of a doctor, learn to consult someone schooled in the law when you have a legal question.

Obligatory final caveats and disclaimers.  This isn’t legal advice.  I’m not your lawyer.  I don’t want to be your lawyer.  This is just my personal opinion expressed through my blog.  My opinions are my own and don’t reflect the opinion of any employer, past, present, or future.  Objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.  Press hard, three copies.




  1. Robert Ball says:

    Wait, Paramedics on Facebook is NOT the right place to ask Medico-legal questions? There’s a lot of confused people out there…

  2. Mike Smertka says:

    Great post. (you have no like button here)

  3. Mike Utesch says:

    Good stuff. So when are you writing that book that needs to be added to paramedic programs?

  4. Long-time reader, first-time (I think) commenter.

    While you’re right that a jury verdict sets no legal precedent, doesn’t it at least imply/suggest what future defendants can expect from juries? I read the blog post in question, and while acknowledging that it almost certainly didn’t present all of the facts of the case, nor all of the information given to the jury, it certainly did seem that the doc did the appropriate thing based on the patient’s presentation, but missed a zebra, and basically got screwed for it. Calling it a “precedent” is technically incorrect, of course, but it certainly portends bad news for the future, no?

  5. Thanks, this is really good advice. I’m going to do this.

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