Specifically, the lawsuit claimed that the internist and urologist had failed to diagnose the abscess, improperly diagnosed a kidney infection, and failed to act when the infectious disease specialist did not show up. The plaintiff alleged that the infectious disease doctor was negligent in failing to respond to the request for a consult in a timely manner. Allegations against the hospital included failure to obtain an infectious disease consult and failure to transfer the patient elsewhere.
The state where this lawsuit took place has a medical malpractice cap of $1.7 million. Pretrial discovery began, and depositions were held. After the depositions, 3 of the 4 defendants wanted to settle the case by paying the medical malpractice cap. The urologist, however, refused to settle. So, the plaintiff and the other 3 defendants (the hospital, the internist and the infectious disease doctor) worked out a settlement amongst themselves. They agreed that the 3 settling defendants would pay $850,000 immediately, and the plaintiff would go to trial against the urologist who refused to settle. If the plaintiff lost or recovered less than the $1.7 million cap, the settling defendants guaranteed another $850,000. If the plaintiff won against the urologist, she would get the $850,000 from him.
When Dr U heard about the settlement, he immediately changed his mind and wanted to be included. He realized that if he settled as part of the deal with the other defendants he would only be liable for a quarter of the $1.7 million medical malpractice cap ($425,000), but if he went to trial on his own he would be facing up to $850,000 in liability. Dr U wisely reconsidered whether going to trial was a good idea and decided that settling was smarter.
Should a physician who is sued always settle? Of course not. It depends on the circumstances, and many cases are dismissed before they ever reach the point of settlement discussions.
In this case, mistakes were made by all the parties, and a young mother, now paralyzed, with 2 small children would be very sympathetic to a jury. In addition to the monetary costs of a trial, the emotional toll can be extremely high. Settling a case should never be considered the only option, but it should be considered a smart choice, depending on the circumstances of the case.