Physicians facing a variety of legal issues have made recent national headlines. Here is an examination of their individual stories and some of the specific legal and financial risks they created.
Doctors face many exposures that go far beyond medical malpractice claims. Having an awareness of all the specific risks your fact pattern presents is vital. Asset protection has many layers and starts with controlling behavior, being insured, and having legal back stops in place if the first two layers fail.
Professional Reputational Damage
A cardiologist’s multi-year legal battle to clear his name and protect his professional reputation has finally made some progress. However, he’s still paying $900 a month to a digital reputation management firm in an attempt to get false items removed from the internet (they still come up on the first page of a Google search) and the correction and retractions to rank higher. And he likely will never be fully compensated for the stress and professional and economic damages he incurred. In summary, he was falsely and publicly accused of having lied to a patient about a surgical error. CNN, which was one of the outlets that originally reported this false information, now lists these outrageous details:
Faxon, the patient's lawyer, told a Hartford television station that (Dr.) Quarrie (the subject physician) had told his client "lies" and was "just plain deceitful."
In his retraction last month, Faxon wrote that he believed those statements to be true when he said them in March 2016.
"However, information uncovered in the course of the litigation's discovery phase demonstrates inaccuracies in those statements," he said.
During that discovery phase, his client accused two other Yale staffers – a physician's assistant and a different doctor – of lying to her. She said she didn't even speak to Quarrie about her surgery.
CNN asked Faxon why he thought Quarrie had been responsible for the alleged coverup when his own client, just a few months after his television interview, said explicitly that Quarrie was not the staffer who had misled her.
As we have previously discussed, your professional reputation is an asset. In the age of patients doing due-diligence with Google and the speed of social media in disseminating “news,” you must have a digital reputation, actively monitor and manage it, and be financially prepared to defend it if required.
Employment Law Liability #MeToo
We’ve covered both the basic steps required to protect your practice from employment liability, including the vital role of employment practices liability (EPLI) insurance, the role of a custom drafted and uniformly enforced employment policy manual, and the need for a culture of compliance. This graphic and disturbing news article details the alleged sexual assaults committed by a physician who went unchecked by his employers despite multiple reports and complaints. The accused physician has had his licensed suspended, and civil lawsuits have been filed against both him and his employer, which also employed several of the alleged victims.If it is shown that the employer knew and should have acted to protect other victims, many of whom were assaulted at work or work-related events, the employer’s financial liability will be very significant and would wipe out many private practices.
When “Going Viral” is Terminal
In another example of a self-inflicted trauma, a now “former” Oakland mental health clinic CEO went viral after footage of her harassing a family legally parking on the street in front of her home was shared on social media. The video shows her questioning their citizenship, threatening to call the police, falsely claiming to be an immigration attorney, and engaging in a variety of other bad decisions. The resulting media attention and public feedback cost her the CEO title within days and certainly reflects poorly on the organization and its other physicians, board members and even donors; it’s a ripple effect. Most practices are poorly prepared for increasingly common events like this from both a public relations crisis management standpoint and in terms of how they would deal with removing a partner (or if they even can) who could no longer practice due to such an event.
As these timely stories illustrate, you are a holistic being with complex personal, professional, and family exposures. Because we can’t predict everything, the best planning tries to address anything that may happen. But the first and most unpredictable factor advisors deal with is always the individual and their own words and actions.
Attorney Ike Devji has practiced in the areas of asset protection, risk management, and wealth preservation law exclusively for the last 15 years. He helps protect a national client base with over $5 billion in personal assets that includes several thousand physicians and is a contributing author to multiple books for physicians and a frequent medical conference speaker and CME presenter.