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The vast majority of doctors wake up every morning intending to do the best possible job for their patients. It’s in our DNA. If and when a patient experiences a complication, no one beats us up harder than we do ourselves. It gnaws at us. We’ll remember it. We hope never to repeat that outcome.

If a bad outcome turns into litigation, expect to be deposed. Or testify at trial. Being deposed or testifying in court is stressful. The plaintiff’s attorney will be a zealous advocate for his client. His job is to demonstrate that you owed the patient a duty of care, you breached the standard of care, and that breach caused an injury. That injury needs to be compensated.

In a sad case in Pennsylvania[1], Dr. Antosh Mirra took care of a patient who delivered a healthy, but premature baby. Unfortunately, the mother died from multi-system failure; presumably from pre-eclampsia.

The plaintiff’s attorney questioned Dr. Mirra. He claimed that Dr. Mirra “ignored repeated warning signs and allowed [the patient’s] urinary tract infection to run rampant, causing organ failure.”

The attorney got Dr. Mirra to acknowledge that while she delivered appropriate clinical care, she had not fully reviewed the patient’s medical history. And such a review would have revealed a history of antibiotic-resistant infections. Dr. Mirra also admitted she prescribed amoxicillin to treat a previous infection but did not order a urine culture to determine whether the urine was later free of bacteria.

Following that admission, the attorney asked: “Are you playing Russian roulette with my client’s life?”

That comment caused Dr. Mirro to sob uncontrollably on the stand. The judge called a recess. The judge reprimanded the plaintiff’s attorney stating the question implied a motive, was inappropriate, and unsettled at least one jury member.

The judge noted “There was at no point a conscious effort [on the part of the doctor] to inflict harm on the patient.”

He then ordered a mistrial.

Such inflammatory language should properly be shunned from courtrooms. Unfortunately, Dr. Mirra will have to experience yet another trial.

What do you think?

[1] Halpin J. Mistrial declared after doctor breaks down on stand in medical malpractice trial. The Citizens’ Voice. October 7, 2016. Accessed November 21, 2016.

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