With a jury in Virginia unable to reach a verdict over a $1 million civil lawsuit filed against orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Rutkowski, orthopedic surgeons and other small business owners are left wondering: when can a lawsuit be filed against me? The civil lawsuit against Dr. Rutkowski claims he caused permanent injury to a patient’s collarbone and left shoulder during clavicle surgery, but after two days of deliberation the jury was unable to reach a verdict.
The jury had a number of questions for Dr. Rutkowski after deliberation – questions that orthopedic surgeons can look at as areas to address in order to avoid malpractice lawsuits. They involve the following:
- The jury was curious as to why Dr. Rutkowski failed to note that he had attempted to use screws in the procedure without success. They also wondered why the patient wasn’t notified of the hazards involved in using sutures in place of screws, and why these hazards weren’t outlined in a consent form given to the patient to sign.
- The jury was struck by the fact that Dr. Rutkowski failed to mention to the patient the possibility of using sutures in place of screws before the procedure, as well as the fact that he failed to mention that this had been the case after he had completed the surgery.
Ultimately, the jury was unable to make a decision in Dr. Rutkowski’s case because the court couldn’t admit additional evidence to answer these questions, which is why the case ended in a mistrial. Though Dr. Rutkowski was not found liable for any judgment, he was responsible for all the attorney and witness fees required to try the case – and he may have to pay additional funds if the case is retried.
This case illustrates how proper documentation and communication with patients can go a long way in preventing malpractice lawsuits. But it may leave orthopedic surgeons and other owners of medical practices wondering which insurance policies they might need to avoid paying for malpractice litigation with personal funds.
While the chances of facing a malpractice lawsuit from a patient are low, these lawsuits are still a very real part of practicing medicine. It's essential to be prepared, which means finding the insurance policies that will protect you from litigious patients or clients.
The benefits of carrying medical malpractice insurance for orthopedic surgeons
Last month, we discussed malpractice insurance for acupuncturists, outlining some situations it commonly covers. Now, in light of news regarding the lawsuit filed in Virginia, it’s worthwhile to highlight the benefits of carrying this policy for orthopedic surgeons.
In the case against Dr. Rutkowski, over $500,000 of potential damages were alleged. And this doesn’t take into consideration other expenses associated with defending a case in court, including witness fees and attorney’s fees. That amount is difficult for any independent practitioner to take on. Without proper malpractice insurance in place, those costs could spell disaster for your practice.
Malpractice insurance also funds cases that end up being dismissed by the court. If your case results in a hung jury, you'll still have coverage for legal fees associated with the court battle.
Even if you feel you’re in the right and that your orthopedic practice ultimately won’t be hit with a half-million dollar settlement, it’s still no fun being scrutinized by a jury and judge. So to curb these types of lawsuits, it’s best to:
- Carry malpractice insurance for your orthopedic practice.
- Familiarize yourself with risk prevention strategies to prevent these suits from happening in the first place. (The blog post “Tips to prevent malpractice suits for your medical practice” is a good place to start.)
When in doubt, cover your bases. You’re always better off preparing for the worst than going into damage control later.