Medical Malpractice

You can't always rely on physician testimony in malpractice cases, says doc who admits he lied

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You can’t always trust testimony by doctors on behalf of colleagues being sued for malpractice, according to retired South Dakota physician Lars Aanning.

Aanning knows from experience: He says he lied on behalf of a medical-clinic colleague in a malpractice trial about 15 years ago. Aanning wrote a “belated confession” for his local newspaper that has been posted to the ProPublica Patient Safety group on Facebook.

“In essence, no supporting testimony from a defendant physician’s colleagues can ever be deemed trustworthy, truthful or true—because those colleagues have essentially sworn an oath of loyalty to each other” in their employment contract, Aanning wrote.

Aanning tells ProPublica in a Q-and-A article that he has felt haunted ever since the lie. He now helps med-mal lawyers with their cases on behalf of plaintiffs, including the lawyer who represented the losing plaintiff in the case in which Aanning lied.

The plaintiff had suffered a stroke and permanent disability after an operation by Aanning’s colleague.

ProPublica asked Aanning why he lied. “I did it as a matter of course,” Aanning said. “And I did it because there was a cultural attitude I was immersed in: You viewed all attorneys as a threat and anything that you did was OK to thwart their efforts to sue your colleagues. I just accepted that as normal. It wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to lie.’ It was, ‘I’m going to support my colleague.’ ”

Aanning believes that the courtroom is not the proper place to adjudicate medical right or wrong. “I shared my story to give an explicit example of why you can’t always rely on physician testimony in court,” he told ProPublica. “I think that’s the big reason. There’s got to be a different way to help people who have been medically harmed. Looking to the legal system is like mixing oil and water.”

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