Chicago ER physician George Hossfeld was notified that he’d been named in a malpractice suit more than two years after he’d stabilized an acutely ill elderly gentleman and admitted him to the ICU. Because his contact with the patient had been brief and he had provided appropriate care, Hossfeld assumed he’d be dropped from the case once the facts became clear to the plaintiff’s attorneys. “A good percentage of the time when a doctor is named in a case, he didn’t even see the patient, or was peripherally involved. You just wait to find out what’s going on.” In Hossfeld’s case, he waited five years to be dropped, only to find that ultimately he was on trial all alone, and that the plaintiffs were asking for damages beyond his malpractice coverage limits.
“It wasn’t fair, but fair has nothing to do with it,” he says. “It was very surprising to me, but right and wrong have little to do with it. Even more stunning, quality of care has little to do with it.”
“I went through stages like someone with a terminal diagnosis—disbelief, anger, rationalization (of course I’ll be dropped…), and then almost grieving. I was anxious and irritable. I felt like my home and my kids’ college might be on the line. I thought, well, if it’s been this unfair to this point, maybe I’ll be found guilty.”
“I like to think of myself as pretty tough ER doctor,” says Hossfeld. “After my six-day trial, I was just physically and emotionally limp. I was so drained, I felt ready to pass out.”
And Hossfeld—like the vast majority of doctors who end up on trial for medical malpractice—had won his case. more »