“How can I avoid being sued?”BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d7827 (Published 14 December 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d7827
- Daniel K Sokol, honorary senior lecturer in medical ethics at Imperial College and barrister
“Doctors don’t care much about ethics,” an unusually frank junior doctor told me one day. “What they care about is law: they don’t want to get sued.” As an ethicist and, like all healthy people, a patient in waiting, I believe strongly that doctors should provide medical care to a high ethical standard.
Yet, as a lawyer, I am aware that many ethical violations have no consequence in law. A healthcare professional may wander through the hospital, exuding rudeness and disdain from every pore, leaving a trail of anxious patients and relatives in his wake, without any legal repercussions. A breach of the duty of care is, in itself, not enough. There must be an injury resulting from that breach; and, in the eyes of the law, grief, anger, and upset are not injuries.
The law, however, does try to keep up with ethics. In Chester v Afshar,1 a neurosurgeon failed to inform the patient of a 1-2% chance of developing cauda equina syndrome from spinal surgery. Sadly, despite being operated on competently, she developed the condition and sued …