Most of us know John Ritter.
Son of Tex Ritter, star of "Three's Company" and later "8 Simple Rules."
And most of us remember his sudden death in 2003 due to aortic dissection.
It is the story after the story that caught my eye. Dr. Jeffrey Segal posted on em-news.com a commentary that looks at the numbers in medical malpractice.
Mr. Ritter's wife settled a wrongful death suit with a number of defendants, including the hospital where he was treated, for $14 million.
The trial went forward for the two remaining defendants, radiologist Matthew Lotysch, MD, and cardiologist Joseph Lee, MD. In March, a jury found the two were not negligent in their treatment of Mr. Ritter. The plaintiffs had asked for $67 million in damages. Let me repeat that: $67 million.
Sounds like they dodged a bullet.
Or did they?
Their attorney said the family wanted that figure so they could use the proceeds from the lawsuit to educate the public about aortic dissection disease. There was no mention if they intended to use the full $67 million for the useful goal of education, or if the lawyers wanted to use two-thirds of that amount for education and one third, or roughly $22.3 million, for educating themselves about how their homes would look with Bentleys in the driveway or with a new driveway altogether, say, leading up to a new house in Malibu.
No doubt, money can be a great motivator.
What I do know is that there is a sizable disconnect here, between what is expected in the case of a high net-worth individual who alleges medical malpractice and what physicians can realistically be expected to pay in damages. Most physicians carry a mere $1 million in professional liability coverage, which means that they have to write a sizable check.
I found that figure shocking. "Only" $1M in med mal coverage? Really thought it would be higher . . . at least $5M.
I have more than $1M on my car and then an umbrella over and above that.
Most physicians are flattered if they are among the few to be asked by high-profile politicians, entertainers, sports stars, or billionaires to provide care. But is it possible that such high earners could possibly seek full indemnification for their salaries if something goes wrong? Most physicians never think about it. Maybe they should because the Ritter trial shows us that the legal system actually does allow forcing the physician who commits a wrong to make Tiger Woods, Bono, or Robert DeNiro whole again if negligent care is proven.
That's a scary thought.
Most high earners value their earning capacity and insure against it on their own. They buy disability and life insurance, so that if something untoward does happen, they actually can be made whole. But the law doesn't recognize that solution. The law says you take the plaintiff as you find him. So, if you negligently injure a billionaire, bankruptcy might be the only way out.
Good thing Dr. Ben Sobel was able to help Paul Vitti .