I was sued only once during my surgical career. The event, in which everyone whose name was in the patient’s chart was included in the suit, occurred during my residency and involved a case in which I had done the admitting history and physical examination and held retractors in surgery. After two years of very little action in the suit, the plaintiff’s attorney dropped the case because it had no merit, and he was threatened with a malicious prosecution countersuit by the university. This event was devastating to this young otolaryngologist, and it made me question at the time whether or not I wanted to continue in medicine, as I (as is every physician named in a malpractice suit) was portrayed by the plaintiff’s attorney as being the most negligent doctor in the world. Unfortunately, many of our colleagues suffer the same assault by plaintiffs’ attorneys in cases without merit and all cite the mental anguish it causes as one of the most distressing aspect of medical malpractice. In most cases, the worst outcomes of a malpractice suit for a physician are the impact of the insurance company’s settlement on the premium and the black mark duly noted on the physician’s record.
Explore This IssueSeptember 2007
Imagine, then, the mental anguish to be accused of multiple murders with the penalty of losing one’s freedom-I can’t. Yet that is what one of our colleagues, Anna Pou, MD, has had to endure for the past two years. She was accused by Louisiana Attorney General Charles Foti of euthanizing at least four patients during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina while she and a handful of dedicated health care workers stayed with patients at Memorial Medical Center. She had the opportunity to leave the hospital, but she remained to care for the sick and dying. Mr. Foti turned the case over to Eddie Jordan, the New Orleans district attorney, who ultimately convened a grand jury, which determined there was not enough evidence to support the murder charges.
The Politics Behind the Case
The word on the streets of New Orleans is that Mr. Foti brought the charges to enhance his political career (he was the Orleans Parish Sheriff for many years). According to political wags, Mr. Foti brought the euthanasia charges to court the conservative vote, which is considerable in Louisiana. Does this sound familiar? Three Duke lacrosse players were falsely accused of rape by a district attorney, Mike Nifong, who was courting voters during a reelection bid. In that situation, it was determined that the DA withheld exculpatory evidence, which ultimately resulted in his resignation from office and disbarment.