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commonly lies at the heart of malpractice law, not competence.1 •

Familiarize yourself with your case and be ready and willing to share the burden. It is difficult when dealing with a malpractice suit to allow your legal team to take the lead. Doing so does not mean that you relinquish control of your case. You simply share the burden with professionals who are there to help you. Restore mastery and self-esteem. Use this opportunity to identify areas of your practice that cause you doubt or anxiety, and find ways to change or diminish them. Maximize pleasurable downtime. Some physicians overwork to compensate for a perceived lack of competence. During this difficult period, it is important to balance work with pleasure and engage in enjoyable, stress-relieving activities. Ask for emotional support from family, friends, support groups, and your malpractice insurer. A good defense attorney will tell you not to talk about the case, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk to trusted confidantes about your experience. Experts agree that is the single most effective coping mechanism. It may also be helpful to seek support from organizations dedicated to assisting physicians in your situation. Support can be found at the nonprofit Physician Litigation Stress Resource Center at Additionally, physicians should look to their medical malpractice insurer for support.

Emergency Physicians. Available at membercenter/ aboutacep/careers/ residentsres/profskills/GettingSued. htm. Accessed December 12, 2005.

The coping suggestions presented may significantly mitigate the emotional impact of a lawsuit and help physicians to maintain an optimistic outlook.

Endnotes 1. Brazeau MD, Chantal M.L.R. “Coping with the Stress of Being Sued.” Family Practice Management, May 2001. 2. Kelly MD, Frank B., and Mark C. Gebhardt MD. “The Liability Stress Syndrome.” American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Online Bulletin, December 2004.

Printed by permission of NORCAL Mutual Insurance Company. NORCAL is the premier provider of professional liability insurance for physicians, medical groups, community clinics, hospitals, and medical facilities. To access additional articles published by NORCAL, visit

3. Charles MD, Sara C. “Coping with a Medical Malpractice Suit.” Western Journal of Medicine, 2001; 174:55-58. 4. Wu, Albert W. “Medical Error: The Second Victim.” BMJ, March 2000; 320:726-7. Available at Accessed December 8, 2005. 5. Hobbs PhD, Thomas, and Gregory Gable. “Coping with Litigation Stress.” Physician’s News Digest, January 1998. 6. Thurman MD, Jason R. “Getting Sued: A Resident’s Perspective.” American College of

Redefining the Malpractice Lawsuit No physician is immune to the threat of a malpractice claim. It is one of the risks of practicing medicine today. PAGE 17  |  THE BULLETIN  |  JANUARY / FEBRUARY 2009

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