Why Settle? (Part One)
Psychiatry is a low-risk specialty, ranking very low in both the frequency and severity of medical malpractice claims. Most physicians feel that talking about settling a claim is taboo but it is our commitment to be honest with our customers and though it is not our philosophy, we feel it is our obligation to discuss it. The reality is psychiatrists do get sued, and occasionally, we may advise the doctor that he or she may want to settle the claim, rather than “fighting it to the supreme court.” While our coverage provides insureds with the right to control settlement, not the insurance company, we will share three examples of when a psychiatrist may choose to settle in part one of this two part blog.
For example, if a doctor failed to meet the standard of care and the patient suffered damages as a result, settlement should be considered. Further, even where the standard of care was met, but the damages were horrific or catastrophic, it may be better to settle the claim rather than risk a “sympathy verdict” for the plaintiff.
Civil trials are open to the public. The trial of your case can be covered by the local press and can be viewed by anyone who wishes to sit in the courtroom and listen to the proceedings. Settlements, on the other hand, are negotiated privately. Every settlement agreement contains language that the doctor settling the claim specifically does not admit liability. Most settlement agreements also contain confidentiality language, which binds both parties.
Until you have been through an entire lawsuit, and possibly multiple appeals, you cannot truly appreciate the time it strips from your professional and private life. For example, you may be notified that trial is scheduled to begin on July 1 and last for a week, so you cancel all your patients for the week leading up to trial (to prepare with your defense counsel) and the week of trial. On June 30, you’re notified that the judge has postponed the start of trial until August 6. You would have lost a week of preparation time one way or the other, but the appointments you canceled for the supposed trial week are gone forever. Sometimes a case will see multiple postponements. Or a case will start on time, but the judge, or one of the lawyers, or one of the parties, will get sick during the trial and the case will be continued. In short, trial calendars are never carved in stone.
In the second post of this two part blog, we will share additional situations when a psychiatrist may choose to settle a claim.