Important Witness Intimidation Decision issued this week. Read it here.
In this March 28, 2013 decision issued in Pennsylvania this week, a court addressed the power of a physician's professional society to intimidate its members through disciplinary action for testimony in court. This practice has been wide-spread among medical specialities across the nation and the decision has widespread implications. Here's how the practice works: years ago insurance companies realized that one way to lower the money they had to pay in legitimate medical malpractice lawsuits was to limit the pool of physicians that are available to review cases and testify against other doctors. Since a patient must always have expert tesimony in order to bring a case to a jury, if they could limit or eliminate the pool of potential experts available for this then they could make a lot more money by paying out less in settlements and judgments. One way they have done this is by changing the statutory laws to increase the technicalities for an expert to be "qualified" to testify to an absurd level - but this is the subject of a different blog. Another way - that this court decision has addressed - is by using a backdoor approach that is straight-up witness intimidation. The insurance companies have gotten the leadership of various medical societies to create rules that supposedly allow a medical society to discipline any of their members who give medical expert witness testimony against other physicians. They claim that it is targeted at junk science and false testimony, but in practice it is simply used to go after physicians who testify against other physicians in order to reduce the field of physicians willing to review records for quality of care issues for families who believe their loved one was injured or killed as a result of medical malpractice. So this decision involves a physician [Dr. Graboff] who was targeted by the American Academy of Orthop[edic Surgeons - a group notorious for intimidating their members who review quality of care cases for plaintiffs. The AAOS went after him and published the disciplinary action on the internet, a move intended to harm him and make him an example to not only other members of his profession but also to other physicians who are members of other specialty groups who also have the same rules. So, Dr. Graboff sued the AAOS and won - making this a landmark case. This court decision has widespread implications for all other physician and physician groups and helps preserve the ability of families who suffer from medical malpractice to have physicians willing to review their medical records and provide the testimony needed for them to obtain justice in a court of law.