Another recent wrongful death lawsuit against an insured attending physician in Broward county demonstrates just how important personal counsel can be when the damages of a case threaten to exceed the limits of a physician’s malpractice insurance policy.
In 2014, an attending physician, Dr. A.M., was sued for medical malpractice and the wrongful death of his hospital patient. A family medicine doctor, neurologist and cardiologist were also named as defendants. The case concerned a patient who presented with symptoms of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. The Plaintiff alleged that while this condition can be deadly, it is almost always survivable if a patient is properly monitored in an ICU setting. The Plaintiff alleged that because the patient was left alone in a regular room, his progressive paralysis went unnoticed and he declined until he ultimately died. The Plaintiff alleged that Dr. A.M. as “the captain of the ship” failed to properly treat the patient and caused his death.
The Plaintiff offered to settle the entire case against Dr. A.M. for $250,000.00 (the policy limits) by sending a “Proposal For Settlement” (aka “PFS”). A PFS is a time sensitive demand that carries significant penalties if not timely accepted and the judgment turns out to be 25% greater than the offer. Had the insurance company timely accepted the PFS, the insurance company would be responsible to pay $250,000.00, the insured doctor would have owed nothing, and the case would have ended. The offer was rejected.
Prior to trial, final summary judgment was entered for the other defendant doctors (family medicine, neurologist, and cardiologist), leaving Dr. A.M. as the only defendant doctor left in the case.
At trial, the jury awarded $2,085,000.00 to the Plaintiff. A final judgment of $2,422,500.00 was entered against Dr. A.M.
Dr. A.M. had an opportunity to settle the case for $250,000.00. Personal counsel may have prevented excess exposure against Dr. A.M. Personal counsel could have advised Dr. A.M. of the risks involved in not accepting the PFS. More importantly, the personal counsel could have cautioned Dr. A.M.’s insurance company that if they failed to timely settle the case, they would expose their insured to increase risk. In some cases, courts have found insurance companies to be in “bad faith” by not accepting reasonable settlement offers and have forced the insurance company to be responsible for the entire judgment, even if it exceeds policy limits.
If you are named in a lawsuit, personal counsel will advise you of the legal risks you are taking. Personal counsel will assist you in objectively assessing the defenses available and potential exposure at trial. Personal Counsel will advocate for the physician and do his or her best to protect the physician from an adverse judgment in excess of policy limits.