Doctors feel heat for taking patients' sides in malpractice cases

Associated Press
Thursday, April 8, 2004

The medical malpractice case of Thomas Christian vs. Joseph Diaco was a week away from trial this spring when the plaintiff's attorneys made a routine call to a physician who had long ago agreed to testify as an expert witness.

The doctor had already given sworn depositions and reviewed the facts of the case, a lawsuit filed after Christian underwent a routine hernia surgery only to have a severe infection ravage his body and leave him disabled.

But when it came time to discuss the trial, the doctor told the plaintiff's lawyer that he had no intention of appearing in court while doctors and trial lawyers remain embroiled in a long-running fight over Florida's medical malpractice law.

The medical profession has clamored for relief from soaring malpractice insurance rates by limiting their liability in malpractice lawsuits. At the same time doctors are making a quieter push to rein in those in the profession who make money testifying for plaintiffs. Doctors say it's an increasingly necessary measure of defense in malpractice cases.

But patient's rights groups say such efforts to rein in expert witnesses is only making it more difficult for patients to hold doctors who commit malpractice accountable.

"It's very difficult to find doctors to testify against each other," said Joanne Doroshow of the Center for Justice & Democracy, a New York-based patients group. "There's a white wall of silence in medicine."
For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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