Posted by Bill Sandweg on 14 December 2020.
If you have ever been the victim of medical malpractice during a hospital stay, it is unlikely that the hospital or the doctors taking care of you told you about it. On those occasions when they do, it is usually because what happened to you is so obvious that they can’t just ignore it or sweep it under the rug the way they usually do.
I have been representing people injured by medical negligence for many, many years now. It is a rare case in which the hospital or doctor admits that they made a mistake that injured a patient. It happens, but not very often and, when it does, it is more often the result of a doctor wanting to do the right thing by the patient than it is a hospital voluntarily admitting a mistake. Sadly, even when the doctor admits to a mistake, the doctor’s insurance company may still aggressively try to prevent the patient from making a recovery or may try to keep down the amount of any recovery. The doctor may want to do the right thing, but the doctor cannot control what the insurance company does.
What most often happens when there is malpractice that injures a patient is that no one says a word to the patient. She or he may be left to guess whether something went wrong or whether they just got a bad result. After all, there are no guarantees in medicine. Sometimes, the hospital or the doctor suggests to the patient that what happened was just one of those things that no one could have anticipated or prevented. Sometimes the doctors or the hospital flat out lie to the patient about what happened.
There are many reasons why doctors and hospitals refuse to own up to their mistakes, but the main one is our old friend: money. Admitting a mistake is an invitation to the patient to make a claim. Claims mean possible payouts. Claims mean possible bad publicity. Claims mean legal costs. Hospitals are in it to make money. While they have insurance, most are self-insured for at least the first couple of million dollars of any claim. This means that for any successful claim on which the hospital has to pay, the money comes directly out of the hospital’s pocket.
Doctors, who have insurance, are not going to be paying claims out of their own pockets but successful claims may result in higher malpractice premiums on down the road. Successful claims are also reported to the Medical Board, which may open an investigation. A Medical Board investigation costs money and can result in discipline against the doctor, which can also cost money. Successful malpractice claims may cause the hospital to restrict or refuse hospital privileges to the doctor. If a doctor cannot admit her or his patients to the hospital or cannot perform surgery at the hospital, that can cause huge financial problems for the doctor. Why invite all this by admitting to the patient that you made a mistake?
Another reason doctors and hospitals don’t tell patients they made a mistake is that they can get away with it. If a patient figures out that they have been injured by malpractice and makes a claim, doctors and hospitals will deny that they did anything wrong. If the case goes to trial, doctors and hospitals win 85% to 90% of the time, even when the evidence of malpractice is strong. Juries just don’t want to believe that doctors and hospitals kill and injure patients. Too hard to sleep at night, if you believe that.
There is no incentive to tell the patient the truth about what happened. If the doctor and hospital deny any fault but the patient ultimately prevails, either by way of settlement or at trial, there is no adverse consequence for the doctor or hospital having first denied any responsibility. It never hurts to deny your mistakes and to force the patient to try to prove their case. Making it as hard a slog as possible also discourages the next patient from even trying.
Despite the vaunted ethics of the medical profession, if you are injured by medical malpractice while you are in the hospital, no one is likely going to come to your rescue and admit the truth. Don’t believe everything you are told by the people taking care of you. If you get a bad result, ask yourself whether you might be the victim of malpractice. Ask the nurses. In my experience, nurses are sometimes willing to spill the beans, as long as you promise not to quote them. They see the cover ups and are often offended by them. Get your medical records. You are entitled to them. See if you can figure out what happened. Consider taking the records to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for review. Until human nature changes, you are on your own. Good luck.