We rely on doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to diagnose and treat our illnesses, injuries, and diseases. Seeking medical care and ending up in worse health than before can be a devastating experience, especially when a worsened condition or injury occurs because of a healthcare professional’s negligence.
It is common for patients to worry about what happens to a doctor guilty of malpractice because medical malpractice often occurs to patients who have longstanding relationships with their medical providers.
Even after suffering injuries because of medical negligence, some patients do not want to file a claim against someone who has been treating them for years. They worry about how a malpractice lawsuit would impact their medical provider’s career and livelihood, even though they absorb the malpractice’s emotional and financial consequences.
The fact is that everyone makes mistakes, but medical providers are legally held to a higher standard. When a doctor or other medical professional makes an error, the consequences can be severe, sometimes fatal. If you have suffered injuries due to medical malpractice, you should not have to shoulder the burden of medical expenses and lost wages when your injuries were no fault of your own.
It is best to consult with a medical malpractice lawyer to learn about your legal options. Until you have the chance, we provide some preliminary information below about doctors’ consequences when they have been sued for malpractice. But first, let’s look at what it means to be “guilty” of malpractice.
Doctor Malpractice Guide
- Civil Lawsuits vs. Criminal Proceedings
- Consequences of a Verdict in Favor of the Patient
- Loss of Patients
- Increase in Insurance Premiums
- Begin Practicing Defensive Medicine
- Investigation by Licensing and Certification Bodies
- Loss of Clinical Privileges
- Adverse Actions from Professional Societies
- Exclusion From Federal and State Healthcare Programs
- Entry in the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB)
- Should I Worry About Suing My Doctor for Malpractice?
- Consult With an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney
Civil Lawsuits vs. Criminal Proceedings
In most situations, referring to a doctor as “guilty of malpractice” is a misnomer that does not accurately reflect the legal process of a medical malpractice lawsuit. The word guilty conjures up images of a jury deliberating a case’s evidence and returning a guilty or not guilty verdict to the court after a unanimous vote.
This scenario represents criminal proceedings that begin with formal criminal charges and carry penalties such as fines and jail time. Additionally, juries in criminal cases must find the defendant guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a much higher standard of proof than in civil cases.
In the most severe malpractice cases, the state might choose to charge them with a crime, especially when a doctor has committed fraud, misrepresented themselves, or intentionally harmed a patient. However, most malpractice claims do not rise to the level that warrants criminal charges.
If a medical malpractice claim does not settle before trial, the jury will evaluate the evidence and return with a verdict. Most medical malpractice cases are based on negligence, so the jury determines whether the doctor was negligent and awards compensation.
The standard of proof in a civil lawsuit is a preponderance of the evidence, which means it is more likely the malpractice claim is true. A doctor and/or the treating facility can be liable for malpractice without all jurors agreeing on the verdict.
Consequences of a Verdict in Favor of the Patient
Depending on the circumstances, you might want the doctor who harmed you to never practice medicine again. This is not the case. Most malpractice claims settle outside of court, and settlement agreements typically include a waiver that prevents patients from seeking further compensation or taking other action concerning the same event and injuries.
However, doctors can face harsh consequences for their negligence, some formal and others informal. The ways a medical malpractice claim impacts doctors include:
Loss of Patients
The mention of a medical malpractice lawsuit, especially if the jury rules against the doctor, impacts a doctor’s reputation and employer if they do not have their own practice. Long-time patients and new patients lose trust and worry that they might also fall victim to medical malpractice, so they seek treatment with another physician.
Some patients might not be able to seek treatment elsewhere because of geographic reasons or issues related to insurance coverage. Depending on the specific circumstances of the malpractice, patients might withhold information about symptoms if they are concerned about substandard treatment.
Without all the information, a doctor can struggle to diagnose patient discomfort or illness, leading to worsening conditions and potentially another medical malpractice lawsuit.
Increase in Insurance Premiums
Doctors and other medical professionals carry malpractice insurance, which works like every other type of insurance—filing a claim increases your premiums. Depending on the location, area of specialty, and policy limits, malpractice insurance costs from $15,000 to over $200,000 per year for a doctor. Hospitals and other treatment facilities typically pay insurance premiums for the medical professionals they employ. However, doctors who have their own practice need to pay their premiums.
In either case, hospitals or doctors increase their fees to offset the cost of an increase in premiums. This can also result in a loss of patients when they look for a more affordable place to seek medical treatment. The aftermath of a medical malpractice lawsuit against a hospital or office sometimes forces doctors not named in the case to move to a different state or specialty to avoid rising malpractice insurance premiums.
Begin Practicing Defensive Medicine
As a direct response to a medical malpractice lawsuit, some medical professionals aggressively begin to practice defensive medicine—focusing on protection from potential future lawsuits. The practice of defensive medicine includes performing additional tests and procedures that a patient does not necessarily need.
In some cases, extra tests and procedures are not in the patient’s best interest, but they protect doctors because they keep patients happy and avoid a potential future lawsuit. Defensive medicine also increases the cost of healthcare, which gets passed on to patients.
Investigation by Licensing and Certification Bodies
All doctors must be licensed in the state where they practice medicine. Depending on their specialization, they might also have one or more certifications. A doctor might have received board certification in dermatology, family medicine, pediatrics, general surgery, and dozens of other specialties or subspecialties. The medical board in the state where a doctor lives will likely investigate the malpractice claim—a separate event from the malpractice lawsuit.
Unless the malpractice rises to a criminal level, it is unlikely a doctor will lose their license to practice medicine based on one malpractice case.
However, a state board might suspend a doctor, limit their practice, or revoke their license if an investigation reveals:
- The doctor is a threat to their patients.
- The doctor has a history of malpractice allegations and lawsuits.
- The doctor exhibited gross negligence, committed fraud, or intentionally harmed a patient.
Obtaining a board certification for a medical specialty is a voluntary process that holds significant weight for practicing physicians because patients look for experts in specific areas to treat their maladies. In certain malpractice cases, the relevant specialty board might strip a doctor of their certification, making it more difficult for them to practice medicine.
Loss of Clinical Privileges
Doctors often see patients at multiple locations, especially if they do not have their own practice. For example, an orthopedic surgeon might perform surgeries at as many as four to six area hospitals. Similarly, other specialists might visit rural hospitals once per week.
The hospitals and clinics granting privileges to doctors typically want to distance themselves from practitioners who have committed malpractice. Depending on the circumstances of the malpractice, a doctor might lose privileges at one or more facilities if they lose their malpractice claim.
Adverse Actions from Professional Societies
An ongoing debate exists in the medical community about whether doctors should join professional organizations and whether they benefit from the membership. Doctors who join professional societies like the American Medical Association (AMA) face disciplinary action if they commit malpractice. Each organization has different rules.
The AMA puts a doctor accused of incompetent, corrupt, or unethical conduct on disciplinary review. Outcomes vary, but the organization does expel doctors. In and of itself, expulsion or disciplinary action from a professional society is not the worst consequence of malpractice. Still, it is serious when you consider it in light of other consequences.
Exclusion From Federal and State Healthcare Programs
Doctors sometimes receive funding and obtain new patients from Medicare, Medicaid, and state-sponsored healthcare plans. Certain malpractice claims lead to exclusion from these programs. This is especially true when a criminal conviction or multiple civil judgments exist. This means doctors who can still practice can only accept private insurance and cannot treat people who rely on government healthcare.
Medicare and Medicaid make up a large portion of income for most hospitals. Exclusion from these programs can impact a doctor’s employment because treating facilities typically want to be able to accept government-sponsored health insurance.
Entry in the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB)
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) maintains records of all adverse actions taken against medical professionals, known as the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB). Even if a doctor who committed malpractice has had no other consequences beyond a judgment against them, they will have an entry in the NPDB.
Most of the actions listed above are reportable events to the NPDB. This helps prevent a doctor who committed malpractice from moving to another state to escape their mistake. New employers can access the NPDB to see what entries a doctor might have listed.
Malpractice is common enough that almost all doctors get sued at least once. However, doctors with multiple entries will find it difficult, if not impossible, to find another job. In some cases, doctors who do not lose their license to practice might switch professions.
Should I Worry About Suing My Doctor for Malpractice?
Even when seriously harmed, many patients feel reluctant to take legal action against their doctor. No one wants to ruin someone’s life or adversely impact their career and ability to provide for their families if they make an honest mistake.
However, a mistake can reveal incompetence, and filing a medical malpractice claim also helps others. Suing your doctor for damages related to your malpractice injuries not only helps you face the financial burden of your injuries but also ensures your doctor will receive some type of formal or informal disciplinary action. This prevents them from causing the same or similar injuries to future patients.
Medical malpractice claims are not about revenge. They are about seeking compensation for damages related to a doctor’s medical negligence or error. Patients often suffer extreme injuries that come with severe economic and noneconomic losses. Malpractice victims who do not receive compensation often suffer a significant financial burden.
When you bring a medical malpractice lawsuit against your doctor, you simply demand payment for the losses you have incurred because of their actions. In addition to medical expenses, you likely have lost income from missing work due to your injuries. If malpractice leads to a permanent injury, you might never be able to work again.
Hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities also carry insurance to cover medical malpractice claims. If you sue your doctor, an insurance company will likely pay the damages associated with a settlement or court-awarded damages. Although exceptions exist, doctors typically do not pay out-of-pocket when a court finds them liable for damages.
Do not hesitate to take legal action when a doctor’s mistake has caused you harm. Absorbing the financial aftermath of your injuries could leave you with serious financial struggles due to someone else’s actions.
Consult With an Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorney
If you have fallen victim to medical malpractice, you might have suffered various types of harm or injuries. Additionally, the loss of trust in medical professionals that comes with malpractice can create emotional trauma for some.
If you are concerned about what might happen to your doctor if you file a malpractice lawsuit or want to learn more about your legal options, consult an experienced medical malpractice attorney. A personal injury lawyer can evaluate the facts of your malpractice case and advise you on the best path forward for your situation.