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To show that a doctor committed fraud or deceit, whether in giving you advice, altering clinical records, or helping you with a case, you have to show the following:

1. The doctor knew, or should reasonably have known, the information was false or the records were altered.

2. The doctor intended that you rely on it, and you believed it was true.

3. You based your decision or action on the belief that it was true.

4. You suffered an injury or financial loss because of your reliance on the doctor’s misrepresentation. For example, you consented to surgery or delayed filing a malpractice suit until after the time limit ran out.

Destruction of evidence is a crime and so is tampering with a witness. And, you are now asking yourself why a doctor who alters clinical records, or threatens your expert witness with political reprisals if he testifies for you, cannot be fined or sent to jail. The answer is that he can. And, anybody else who tried it would probably be punished with a fine or jail sentence. But, doctors seem to get preferential treatment from the courts. Although altering clinical records and intimidation of medical expert witnesses or dental expert witnesses happens every day, it would be hard to find any instance of a doctor ever having been punished for doing them.

In a West Virginia case, the doctor called the patient’s expert witness and made threats against his life, if he testified against him. When the patient’s lawyer complained to the court, the judge had a chat with the doctor who explained that what he really meant was the expert would “get killed” by being embarrassed and humiliated on the witness stand. The judge agreed with him. End of complaint.

What about the doctor who offers to help you, then

deliberately destroys your case? You can also recover from him, and this will be dealt with later.

To show fraud in obtaining your consent, or in concealing the effects of medical malpractice or dental malpractice, you must have some proof, either statements made in the presence of a reliable witness or a promise in writing. If it is just your word against the doctor’s word, it tends to turn into a “shouting match”, which the doctor usually wins.

Fraudulent alteration of clinical records can be established by a medical expert or dental expert or by an authenticator of disputed documents (handwriting expert). In the New Jersey case mentioned earlier involving the neurosurgeons, the medical expert witness for the patient spotted the typist’s notations that the documents had been dictated a year later and must have replaced the originals, which had been destroyed. In a Long Island case, the plaintiff was able to prove the doctor had altered the medical records to cover his malpractice and deceive the court. The jury awarded punitive damages, in addition to compensatory damages.

Punitive damages are not covered by the doctor’s malpractice insurance. Therefore, if you discover your expert has conspired against you, or the records have been altered or destroyed with intent to deceive, it gives your lawyer leverage.

The Rule Is: In order to plead fraud or deceit, you must show there was a conspiracy between the doctors or the clinical records were deliberately altered with the intention of defeating your case. Just because the doctors know each other, or are friends and have discussed your case, or because records are lost or edited in preparation for trial, will not do it. You must show deliberate intent to deceive you.

Multiple Defendants

You were treated by many doctors over a period of time and cannot be sure which one was responsible or whether they all were. This is the most difficult type of malpractice case to win for the following reason

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1. Medical malpractice lawsuits against multiple defendants require an enormous amount of paperwork and added expense.

2. Juries might believe that one or two doctors committed malpractice but are reluctant to believe that all the doctors and two or three hospitals were all negligent.

3. Jurors are turned off by what they see as harassment suits against innocent people.

4. The most important reason is that the lawyer for each defendant will make a summation speech to the jury at the end of the case, which means that the jurors will hear multiple arguments against you and only one argument – your lawyer’s – in your favor. That loads the odds heavily against you, and such cases are usually lost.

An airline attendant sued a California dentist for dental malpractice that resulted in her losing most of her teeth. However, in the course of her work, she had been treated by four other dentists in different cities, during and after the poor work done by the California dentist. Her lawyer had an impossible job of trying to sort out who was responsible for what, and he could not drop any of the defendants, because their work was overlapping. She finally dropped her case.

The Rule Is:
As your attorney makes discovery and finds out what really happened and who was responsible, you drop your complaint against everybody who was not responsible and try to end up with not more than 1 or 2 opponents in court.

The Doctor Made a “Slip of the Wrist.”

Be careful of the mishap which can be defended as a “slip of the wrist” or unforeseeable accident. We all make honest mistakes, and medicine and surgery are arts and not exact sciences. If the statistical chances of a bad result from the operation you had are 2%, and your doctor testifies that he has done over 200 and yours is the first one he ever had to go wrong, the jury will probably go along with him. No one is perfect, and doctors are only expected to adhere to good and accepted medical practice.

Unless the doctor has persuaded you to go ahead with surgery or treatment on the basis of a promise of specific, good results, such as in Cosmetic Plastic Surgery, the law says that he only undertakes to treat you and does not guarantee any results. However, if there was a Pattern of Negligent Behavior – he was negligent on more than one occasion while treating you – it blocks the simple mishap defense, and your case is much stronger.

The Local, Small Town Doctor

The physician who looks and acts the part of the sincere, dedicated, well-qualified doctor, and who is well thought of in the community, can be a tough opponent, no matter what he did. The jury is going to believe his version of what happened, because the jurors like and trust him.

In a case in upstate New York, a neurosurgeon had a patient who died. The doctor was in his 80′s – too old to open somebody’s head – and made terrible errors, which caused the patient’s death. No doubt about it. Technically, it was an open-and-shut case. The widow sued and brought in well-qualified professors in Neurological Surgery and Pathology as her medical expert witnesses. The doctor’s medical expert was a pathologist with dubious credentials, who showed microscopic slides that he said were from the patient but were proven to be from another person and exposed as fraudulent. No matter! The doctor was a beloved old, local character who knew practically everybody in town. The jury was not about to find him guilty of malpractice – and it didn’t.

The Rule Is: Eminent doctors and famous hospitals can usually brush off weak or dubious lawsuits. Juries are reluctant to believe that they would do anything wrong. They are tough opponents and you must have a strong case if you hope to win. One way your lawyer can neutralize local popularity or prestige of a formidable opponent is by a legal maneuver called Change of Venue.

     
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