Doctors have to pay for malpractice insurance to protect themselves against personal financial liability. A medical malpractice lawsuit won’t necessarily affect the standing of a negligent physician’s license. However, depending on the circumstances of the case, a medical board can choose to revoke a doctor’s license.
Proving liability in a medical malpractice case is dependent on obtaining extra information. Even if the court determines that a doctor has acted negligently, the proceedings will not affect their license. License revocations are done with separate procedures that don’t take place in civil courtrooms.
The Purpose of Medical Malpractice Suits
Medical malpractice suits are not a way for a person to end a doctor’s career. Even if they believe that a doctor should stop practicing medicine because they are a risk to their patients, a malpractice lawsuit will have no effect. Civil suits have no bearing on whether a doctor can practice, either while litigation is occurring or after a settlement has been reached.
Malpractice suits focus on financial liability instead. If a doctor’s mistake caused a person to suffer unnecessarily, the suit may seek financial compensation for:
- Injuries caused by the negligent act
- Treatment for those injuries
- Follow-up care and rehabilitation
- Hospital stays and doctor appointments
- Treatment for any chronic conditions that develop as a result of the negligence
- Compensation for the pain and suffering caused by the negligence
- The cost of travel to and from medical appointments
A successful malpractice suit will typically be paid by the doctor’s insurance company, rather than the damages coming out of the doctor’s pocket.
When a Medical License Is Revoked
Doctors have their licenses revoked if it is determined that they threaten society or are negligent and reckless enough that they will systematically endanger future patients. Normal allegations of negligence are not enough to warrant a license revocation. There must be a proven pattern of negligence and endangerment.
To be determined a “threat to society,” it must be proven that there was an intentional attempt to harm a patient. Even if the attempt was unsuccessful, this is still grounds for license revocation. A patient needs to gather a great deal of evidence illustrating that the action had malicious intent.
Some doctors may have their licenses reinstated following a revocation. Doctors who are given their licenses again after a period of revocation may be subject to reprimands including:
- Periods of probation
- Limitations on their practice
- Being supervised
- Other restrictions appropriate to the circumstances
Decisions about whether to revoke a license are made by the state medical board rather than the court.
The Frequency of Malpractice Suits
You might be surprised by how common malpractice suits are. If every doctor who’d been sued lost their license automatically, more than half of all practitioners would be out of a job. With that said, only a small number of cases are decided in an actual courtroom.
One survey indicated that about 60 percent of doctors had been sued at least once. 80 percent of doctors over age 59 had been sued. Nearly every doctor is sued at least once during their career before they retire.
Of the malpractice suits filed, about three percent are decided in court. The majority of cases resolve in the following ways:
- The plaintiffs reach a settlement outside of the court
- The plaintiffs withdraw their lawsuit
- The plaintiffs are dismissed from the civil court before they can plead their case and the lawsuit dissolves
It’s very difficult to argue a successful medical malpractice claim without an experienced lawyer. An attorney can help put together a case that proves every component of negligence that must be proven.