The Legal Intelligencer recently reported on sanctions motions filed by the plaintiff in a medical malpractice case. In the case, the plaintiff alleges that Roxborough Memorial Hospital failed to obtain diagnostic testing that could have resulted in the timely diagnosis of their family member’s fatal lung cancer. Roxborough apparently admits they failed to relay an X-ray showing the likelihood of lung cancer to the patient and their physicians, resulting in an 18-month delay in the diagnosis. The hospital, however, denies they had any duty or responsibility to relay that information.
The plaintiffs hired an expert emergency physician at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to testify that, in fact, the emergency room at Roxborough committed malpractice by not relaying the information. And that’s where things got ugly. According to the plaintiff’s motion for sanctions, the defense lawyer for Roxborough Hospital wrote to the general counsel at Penn, arguing:
The case involves an acknowledged failure to relay concerning X-ray findings to the patient's physicians and the patient herself, resulting in a lengthy delay in the diagnosis of her cancer. … Nevertheless, the plaintiff has retained one of Penn's emergency room physicians … who has offered the untenable opinion that because Dr. Geller ordered the test, it was his responsibility to follow through on obtaining the results and advising the patient of them.
Dr. Porges has clearly overlooked the well-established concept of hand-off to an accepting inpatient team and I thought you might want to know that, if this is her position and plaintiff's attorneys become aware of it, it could expose the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania to significant liability.
We are outraged, but not surprised, that a defense lawyer would stoop so low as to try to punish a doctor for testifying on behalf of a family that lost a loved one due to blatant medical malpractice. Our civil justice system is dependent upon licensed and qualified physicians agreeing to share their expertise with judges and juries by providing expert testimony, but far too many doctors and hospitals follow a “code of silence” where they refuse to testify in a way that might help malpractice victims - even if they personally believe there was negligence.
We are glad to see the plaintiff’s lawyer standing up to such aggressive, inappropriate tactics, and we hope the judge issues a stern warning to the defense lawyer for their underhanded tactics and their attempt to silence a doctor for speaking their conscience and testifying about malpractice.