How to Tell if Your Doctor Has Been Sued

This Doctor looks upset because he has been Sued.

Relatively few doctors are responsible for a significant portion of medical malpractice payouts in the United States, data from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) reveal. As consumer advocacy group Public Citizen puts it, “the problem of malpractice is not random.”

For example, 5.9 percent of doctors were responsible for 57.8 percent of all medical malpractice payouts between 1990 and 2005. A mere 2.3 percent of doctors – each subject to three or more malpractice claims – were responsible for about a third of all payments. Just 1.1 percent of doctors, with four or more malpractice payments, accounted for 20.2 percent of payments.

Eighty-two percent of doctors have never been responsible for a paid medical malpractice claim, according to the NPDB.

This page, prepared by the Seattle medical malpractice law firm of Tinker Law Firm, PLLC explains ways to do your homework on a potential healthcare provider.

If you think you have a malpractice case, or simply have questions about a potential case, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Check with the state medical board.

Your state’s medical board is the first place you should look for information on a doctor’s licensing troubles. This is different from whether a doctor has been sued, which is addressed below.

Washington physicians are licensed by Medical Quality Assurance Commission (MQAC). You can check Washington providers here. Residents of other states can find links to their local medical board at the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) directory.

Once you’ve landed on the “Provider Credential Search” page of the Washington MQAC, you can search either by credential type and credential number, or by a healthcare provider’s last name and first initial. Not only doctors, but also nurses, technicians, counselors and a wide range of other providers can be searched in the MQAC search form.

After searching, you will see one of two results:

  • A red “YES” under “action taken.” This means that the license holder (the medical provider) has been investigated and disciplined, or has agreed to a Stipulation in Lieu of Discipline. You may also be able to view documents related to the actions taken against the provider (for example, the Statement of Allegations). For information about actions that occurred before 1998, you’ll need to contact the MQAC Customer Service Center at 360-236-4700.
  • A “NO” under “action taken” means only that a provider has not been disciplined. It does not mean that a provider isn’t under investigation or was never investigated. To obtain this information, call the MQAQ Customer Service number above and ask, “Does this provider have any open or closed investigations?” If there are any investigations, whether pending or completed, you may inquire over the phone about when the investigation began and why it was initiated. Details about the investigation may also be obtained by completing a public records request. You can learn more about obtaining public records in Washington here.

Find information about medical malpractice lawsuits.

A provider whose record with the state medical board checks out clean may still have been sued for malpractice. That’s because a medical malpractice lawsuit is a civil action, which is a separate matter from investigations and disciplinary actions by Washington or another state.

The NPDB contains the malpractice records of U.S. healthcare practitioners, including settlement and verdict information. Access to these records is not permitted to members of the general public. The ability to check the NPDB is limited to hospitals and other healthcare entities, state licensing agencies, U.S. law enforcement and a short list of others (find out more about the NPDB at its website).

So how can a concerned patient research the quality of his or her health care providers? The following methods aren’t foolproof, but they are a starting point:

  • Washington Courts website. To begin, go to Select “search case records” Under “Access Court Records” at the bottom of the page. Under “search for a person” select “name search.” After you accept the terms of the disclaimer, you’ll be able to search by a provider’s name. To search for providers in states other than Washington, use the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) State Court websites directory.
  • Consumer feedback site reviews. You may use sites like Yelp and Angie’s List to find reputable local businesses — so why not search them for medical providers? The simple answer is that the red flags or negative reviews you may be searching for won’t be posted on these types of websites. Plaintiffs in malpractice cases are often advised against discussing the litigation, and a settlement agreement may disallow sharing details about the case. Of course, you can still try.

If the above methods prove unsatisfactory and you find yourself wanting to know more about a doctor, these steps may be surprisingly useful:

  • Tap into your circle. Friends and family — particularly those in the medical field — can be a good resource.
  • Check the record. You’ll likely feel better going into a medical procedure if you know that the doctor has not only performed the same procedure many times, but also has a strong record of successful outcomes. Ask the hospital or the doctor for this information.
  • Find a board-certified doctor. Board certification means, among other things, that a doctor is up-to-date on the latest medical innovations in his or her field.
  • Ask for a second opinion. It is up to you what care you receive and who provides it. It is your right to ask for a second opinion about either of these matters.

Get help from an experienced medical malpractice lawyer in Seattle.

The advice outlined above may help you avoid medical malpractice. If you are already dealing with what you believe is negligent medical care, you may wish to have your potential case reviewed by a lawyer.

The attorneys at Tinker Law Firm, PLLC are experienced in reviewing cases that involve medical negligence. Our lawyers work with doctors, nurses and other medical experts to review medical records for indicators of negligent errors.

To talk to our team about your situation, call us today or fill out our online contact form for a free claim evaluation.