Earlier this week I wrote about a large jury verdict in a case involving clear negligence on the part of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. But what happens when doctors and other medical providers try to cover up their less obvious errors by altering medical records? Once again, a case involving UPMC shows us that courts will go to great lengths to hold doctors accountable for their actions.
As part of the discovery (fact-finding) process of a wrongful death case involving a 62-year-old man, the plaintiff’s attorney sought testimony from UPMC’s head of quality assurance, Dr. Richard Simmons, regarding some suspicious changes to the man’s medical records following his death. However, many states (including Michigan) will protect certain information accumulated during a hospital’s investigation in order to ensure appropriate remedies are put in place. UPMC’s attorney argued that this “peer review” privilege applied and that Dr. Simmons could not be deposed. The judge disagreed, ruling that falsifying records is not part of the protected peer review process, and ordered the doctor’s deposition.
A similar conclusion was recently reached by a judge in a Michigan medical malpractice case involving severe burns received by a patient during surgery. The patient, who was under anesthesia and had no personal knowledge of anything that happened during the procedure, was badly burned by a cautery device that was somehow set against her body. The surgeon and the hospital argued that they had no idea how the injury happened, but did not believe they were at fault. The findings of a hospital investigation, however, revealed that the doctor breached the standard of care and caused the burns. The hospital tried to prevent the patient from seeing this incident report, asserting the peer review privilege, but the judge in the case ruled that these facts should have been made available to the victim and her lawyer. The hospital and its lawyers were sanctioned for taking a position inconsistent with facts they knew to be true and for causing the patient additional expense in proving her claim.
Doctors and hospitals will sometimes rely on false, misleading, and disingenuous medical records to avoid being held responsible for their mistakes. Not only is this a felony in most cases, it is becoming increasingly clear that courts will not let wrongdoers get away with covering up their errors.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.