Dear Madhouse Madman is served with a complaint. My heart goes out to him! Sara Charles, MD, describes the devastating impact of litigation on physicians:
The reaction to being sued often is prefaced by a period of emotional turmoil following the catastrophic event or negative outcome. The physician may feel unduly responsible or guilty, genuine sorrow for the persons involved, dread, anxiety, and fear of being sued. These feelings may not resolve in any way until the statute of limitations expires or a suit is filed.Symptoms may develop during any of these stages when adequate coping fails:
More than 95% of physicians react to being sued by experiencing periods of emotional distress during all or portions of the lengthy process of litigation. This may begin immediately on being served with the complaint by a sense of outrage, shock, or dread about the personal and financial effects of the eventual outcome. This is the first reaction in a series that is similar to those that accompany any major life event...Feelings of intense anger, frustration, inner tension, and insomnia are frequent throughout this period.
Symptoms of major depressive disorder (prevalence, 27%-39%), adjustment disorder (20%-53%), and the onset or exacerbation of a physical illness (2%-15%) occur, although fewer than 2% acknowledge drug or alcohol misuse. A general internist, for example, described awakening with his first episode of atrial fibrillation after being served with his first malpractice suit the previous afternoon. This generated emergency medical consultation accompanied by profound psychological effects on the physician. Some 2 years later, it figured prominently in his decision to settle and to retire earlier than he had originally planned...
The complaint is served: initial feelings of surprise, shock, outrage, anxiety, or dread
Consultation with lawyer: depending on the initial assessment of the case, reactions of anger, denial, concern, reassurance, panic
Lengthy period of denials and intrusions: active attempts to erase thoughts about the case, followed by automatic reminders and intrusive thoughts about it; becoming preoccupied by ruminating excessively—exacerbated whenever case-related activity increases, such as before the deposition, when experts testify, and before and during the trial
Working through the lengthy process, during which physicians psychologically and intellectually “process” the meaning of the case, their role in it, and their approach to their own defense...