Michael J. Sacopulos, Esq.
A Louisiana physician was fired for diverting Demerol from his patients and reporting to work under the influence. Upon the dismissal, a colleague wrote a letter of recommendation for the physician. The discharged physician took his glowing recommendation and found a new job thousands of miles away in Washington State.
About a year into working at this new job, the physician was caught “under the influence.” Further, he was caught after he failed to properly administer anesthesia and his patient fell into a permanent vegetative state, according to court records. The patient’s family filed a malpractice lawsuit against the physician and the medical center where the surgery took place. The case was settled with the physician paying $1 million and the medical center paying $7.5 million.
But the story does not end there. The Louisiana physician that wrote the letter of recommendation had also been named in the suit. He was not dropped from the lawsuit. The court ruled he engaged in negligent misrepresentation and ordered him to pay the Washington medical center that had hired the discharged physician, $8.2 million in total damages. This amount represented the medical center’s full settlement amount plus its legal expenses.
It should also be noted that writing the letter of recommendation was not considered the practice of medicine. This means that the claim and judgment fall outside the scope of medical malpractice coverage.
This case should serve as a warning. Do not write unjustified letters of recommendation. A simple three sentence letter resulted in an $8.2 million judgment and a patient in a permanent vegetative state.