From Doctor to Defendant: Honesty, — the best policy (Part 2 of 4)

TELL THE TRUTH. We begin by being honest with our defense counsel. Protected by the lawyer-client privilege, we can speak about our medical malpractice lawsuit openly and without fear. The mutual uncertainty of regard in our first meeting may lead us to withhold, for the moment, or to gloss over some of the less-than-flattering information about the case. We should reject temptations to spin the facts, because they will come out anyway, leaving us feeling embarrassed and more vulnerable. Honesty is not only the best policy, it is the only policy when so much is at stake.


The first meeting, according to defense attorneys, is the most important one with their clients. At this first meeting, we not only provide the lawyers with their foundational understanding of the case but we also help them conceptualize the probable plaintiff's theory of the case. We simply must take the time before we meet with our attorneys to learn, memorizing, if necessary, the facts, by reviewing our own notes and the entire hospital chart of the case. We must know and inform our lawyers of the contents of the nurses' notes because these often play a significant role in supporting or undercutting the physician's case. We should also inform the lawyer about any questions that occurred to us at the time of the incident about our medical approach as well as any intuitions we had that the patient was a problem even before the adverse event occurred.

We may also be tempted during the session to blame the outcome on the faults of others. And, indeed, others may be partially or fully culpable and, as we learn later, may not be entirely honest about their role in the event. Our primary responsibility, however, is not to speculate about these perceptions or testimony of others but rather to tell our side of the story honestly and folly. We can only hope that if others are responsible, the testimony will reveal their role in the incident.

Dr. Richard Allen was disheartened when his partner falsely accused him of being responsible for the follow-up of a CAT scan.

Suddenly the team fractures. It's almost like what soldiers feel when they go into combat. The first duty you have is to your buddies to get through this thing the best way you can. That's the way I feel about medicine. It's kind of a war and you have to help each other out to try to get through it. We're all working toward the same purpose, which is to achieve a good outcome. (A lawsuit) is one of the battles in the war and people should stick together and help each other out and if mistakes are made, we need to be honest about it and help each other with that and don't go around pointing fingers and trying to rat on each other and make the best deal you can for yourself. That's the way I always thought about it and I was very surprised that that's not the way it works.

Although Dr. Allen and his partner were planning on changing their practice arrangements after have been partners for twenty-seven years before this incident, the medical malpractice lawsuit hastened a parting of the ways and, both agreed, to better practice settings for each of them.

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