Medical Negligence: To Sue or Not to Sue?

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

November 22nd, 2009 • Patient AdvocacyPrint Print

I am contemplating suing the doctor who dumped liquid nitrogen on the examining table, for funsies, when I was getting my wart removed. As those of you following my blog know, I felt an immediate stinging sensation in my right eye, and I have had all kinds of eye problems and headaches since then.

lawsuitI initially approached the doctor, letting him know that I had no interest in suing, but that I did feel it would only be fair to receive compensation for the expenses and suffering his actions cost me. A few months passed by with no response, then I got a letter from his insurance company, saying that because they had not heard from me, they were going to close my case.

I immediately called, informing the representative that I had not received anything from them. The representative then sent me paperwork to fill out, which I did. I was under tremendous pressure at the time – starting a new job, getting ready to move, and writing a cover story on drug-free remedies for chronic pain — which involved heavy duty research. All in the span of a couple of months.

Once I moved, things continued to be frantic – settling into a new city, unpacking and setting up house, continuing work on my article and at my new position. Then my mom was in a horrible accident.

telephoneSo on my end of things, I wasn’t totally on top of matters with the insurance company. On their end of things, meanwhile, the representative repeatedly did not respond to my letters, faxes, and phone calls. The only time I was able to get responses from her is when she picked up the phone when I called.

Following up with them was fairly low on my list of priorities. With more important matters demanding my attention, I just couldn’t put in the energy and time to chase after insurance.

Long story short, it appears they just dropped the case without bothering to notify me. Fairly unprofessional behavior all around. I had informed the representative of my circumstances, so perhaps she figured I was too overwhelmed to hold her accountable for anything and took advantage of that.

Regardless, it’s now coming up on the two year statute of limitations for this incident. I generally am not interested in suing, because doing so focuses on the negative of something that has happened in the past, instead of focusing on the positive of healing in the present and future.

Besides, winning a lawsuit doesn’t make what happened un-happen. It just provides some money. And the character-bashing and reality-undermining and otherwise hateful behavior that go on in lawsuits just don’t make it worth that money most of the time.

But I’m thinking of taking this guy to small claims court, which involves less of the drama than a full-on lawsuit. I just feel that his actions were so clearly out of line and wrong, and I guess I want him to be held accountable for it somehow. But I’ll have to gather receipts (which I haven’t kept), medical bills, and doctor statements, and my focus will be on the negative, on proving that what happened did in fact happen.

It’s all so counter to healing. And yet, I hate the idea of letting doctors get away with such horrible behavior. And it would be lovely to be compensated some of the thousands of dollars I’ve shelled out in body work, to help my eye heal, and to be able to get more acupressure and cranio-sacral treatments on my eye, to help facilitate complete recovery.

In a way, I feel like such a wuss that I keep not taking on The Man. But maybe I’ve just got my priorities in order, and I know that even $5,000 or $7,500 is just not worth the price of putting my attention on something negative.

I think what it comes down to is that the very foundations of our legal and medical systems are skewed. The legal focus is not on discovering truth, but on winning — in the process exploiting people’s weakness. And the medical focus is not on discovering the body, but on imposing formulaic notions of science — in the process denying people’s physical reality.

I guess in this setup, I am well aware that the system is inherently against all that I experience, value, and need. So while it may not bring me cold hard cash, I’ve turned to more positive, life-affirming, healing, and loving forms of response — like writing about my experience on this blog.

I’m still pondering this one.


Heather Freeman November 23rd, 2009

I sympathize. I’m currently engaged in a lawsuit against the person who caused the car accident that sent my nervous system into spasmodic overdrive (and his insurance company which blithely dismissed my claim), and I have been struggling with that same pull between needing to move forward with my life and having to prove the permanent harm that was done to me and my family. On the one hand, the way our society is structured, lawsuits are really our only recourse when The System fails us. Even the ability to bring a lawsuit, with the expenses and time required, is a privilege, and in a way I feel like I have to fight it on behalf of all the people who can’t.
But it is hard, very hard, to stay focused one day on the things I can do, and turn around the next to fill out reams of documentation on my inability to pursue my career or be active in my church. I still don’t know if I made the right choice, and likely won’t until it’s all over.

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