Monday, November 06, 2006

Urologist Suicide Over Medical Malpractice Verdict!

I read with interest a case from May in which a urologist committed suicide after a $1 million jury award to a plaintiff. The urologist was a very well regarded and successful doctor who specialized in male infertility, vasectomies, and vas reversals. According to the article, Dr Grey, 51, performed several hundred vas reversals per year, created a unique instrument--the microbeam--to aid in the vas reversal procedure, and was known as Vas Doctor, online.

The law suit alleged that Dr Grey left a surgical sponge in a patient's scrotum post-operatively. The patient needed subsequent surgeries to remedy the problem and claimed damages. Despite attempts by the plaintiff's attorney to settle the case for the limits of Dr Grey's malpractice insurance policy, $250,000, the case ultimately went to trial and the jury awared the patient $1,000,000. Later that night, Dr Grey hung himself at his home.

Why would this urologist, this exceptionally successful urologist, commit suicide over a malpractice verdict? Well, I am sure there is more to the story than what is written in the article, but I view it as a cautionary tale. Doctors get sued. Period. One must try, as hard as it is, not to take a law suit personally, especially not to this degree. One must view these things--law suits--in their proper perspective, learn from them, and move on!

Perhaps he was financially ruined as a result of the award. This is possible, but unlikely. The most likely outcome of the award, according to attorney friends and family of mine, would have been an appeal followed by a settlement for a figure far below the $1 million sum. Even if he ultimately was forced to pay the $1 million, his reaction was certainly not rational. Finally, why did he only have $250,000 in insurance? In NY, physicians are required to carry more than this, but not in Florida. Moreover, in Florida, due to high insurance premiums and no obligation to carry insurance, many physicians are going bare--having no coverage--or keeping minimal coverage. I believe this approach is foolhardy and penny wise and pound foolish.

I don't have the answer to what happened to Dr Grey nor why it happened and I don't have an opinion that would interest anybody regarding medical liability reform. I do know that Dr Grey's death was senseless and in many respects tragic, not only for his family, but for all the would-be-parents who can no longer benefit from his expertise. The tale of Dr Grey is indeed a cautionary one that we physicians should heed.

Richard A Schoor MD FACS