A Fairfax County, Virginia jury recently awarded half a million dollars to a Reston, Virginia man who was the victim of “trash talking” by his doctors while he was sedated for a colonoscopy procedure. According to an article in the Washington Post, the man’s cell phone recorded the entire procedure. The recording, which was admitted into evidence and played for the jury, proved that the anesthesiologist and gastroenterologist who attended to the man during the procedure ridiculed him, falsified his medical records, and asked the medical assistant to interact with him after the procedure so they did not have to.
Although the man was not physically hurt, according to a juror interviewed by the Post, the jury’s verdict was fueled by a desire to “to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.” This sentiment is echoed by almost every single client who calls our office wanting to know whether they have a medical malpractice case. Making sure other patients are not hurt (or heartlessly ridiculed), i.e, making the world a safer place, is one of the primary goals of the tort system.
Maybe it is not surprising to hear that perhaps the second most frequent sentiment echoed by our clients is frustration with physicians who just plain treat them poorly or do not listen to them. The Virginia case is interesting because ordinarily a person must be physically hurt in order to claim damages for medical malpractice; mere unprofessionalism is not enough. But time and again it has been shown that doctors who simply talk to their patients and treat them with respect are less likely to be sued, even when a patient experiences a bad result. Indeed, we often are instructed by our clients not to sue doctors our clients “like,” even though we believe they may have been negligent.