We here in Las Vegas are frequently derided for a lack of originality. We’re the place of imitation and where careers go to die (as in our fake New York skyline and all the has-beens of popular entertainment doing Strip shows). But from time to time we Las Vegans can show ourselves to be on the cutting edge – from the Las Vegas Sun:
The dramatic rise in prescription narcotics use — and the subsequent increase in overdose deaths — has led to a spate of lawsuits across the country targeting doctors for malpractice or running pill mills. But legal experts say the case of one family physician in Henderson stands out.
Dr. Kevin Buckwalter has turned the tables, filing a lawsuit against the parents of a young woman who died from an overdose of narcotics that he prescribed.
Buckwalter’s suit accuses John and Maggie DeBaun of abusing the legal process, intentionally inflicting emotional distress and interfering with his ability to do business by filing a medical malpractice case against him for the death of their daughter.
“I’ve never heard of such a lawsuit,” said Stacey Tovino, a professor at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law…
I bet you haven’t, professor. This is certainly a new twist of the screw: for two generations doctors have been on the receiving end of lawyers and their “expert witnesses” second-guessing medical decisions with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. The result has been skyrocketing health care costs and doctors getting out of the health care business. But here’s a doctor who decided that enough is enough.
To be sure, Dr. Buckwalter is never going to be the poster-boy for medical professionalism. According to the article, he’s had several patients under his care die of drug overdoses and his license to prescribe medication has been revoked. But stepping away form Buckwalter’s own case, there has always been something which bothered me about medical malpractice lawsuits. Two things, really:
First, as already mentioned, the fact that you are second-guessing after the fact. The person making the accusation has facts in hands which the doctor may not have been aware of at the time the decision was made. It is never fair to judge someone based upon information which he wasn’t aware of or couldn’t reasonably make himself aware of. Nor is it fair to bring in a battery of “experts” to say, “I would have done it different”. The accused doctor would have done it different, too…especially if he had weeks of leisure time to go carefully over medical and autopsy reports and consult all relevant literature on the latest developments.
Second, there is the fact that no amount of money extracted from an insurance company will fix the problem. If a person is dead or permanently injured by a doctor’s action, you can’t repair it with cash (outside of money needed to care for someone permanently disabled, of course…but you don’t need to tack on lawyer fees to get that). And it certainly doesn’t help anyone (other than lawyers) that 1/3 or so of the judgment goes to the attorney. That just works out to a tax on health care…and a tax which doesn’t go for health care, but just to line the pockets of lawyers. If a doctor did something criminally negligent, the justice is served by putting the doctor in jail for criminal negligence. If it wasn’t criminally negligent – if you can’t get a conviction for that – then it really amounts to nothing more than one of the terrible tragedies of life. And there is nothing worse in world than someone who will try to enrich themselves off of terrible tragedy (for instance, John Edwards – he enriched himself off of medical malpractice; anyone out there want to be a character reference for him?)
I don’t know where Buckwalter’s suit will go. In the linked article, lawyers are fretful that it could have a “chilling effect” on people bringing malpractice lawsuit. This is stated as if that would be a problem. Malpractice lawsuits should be rare; better if they were non-existent. If Buckwalte’s lawsuit scares off even one ambulance-chaser, then it will be worthwhile. And it would be nice to have Las Vegas leading the way in something these days.