A physician has malpractice insurance to protect personal assets from a verdict that could award damages far in excess of the doctor’s coverage limit. In New York, a doctor typically has a total of $2,300,000 worth of primary and excess coverage. Since juries can easily render awards far in excess of that amount of coverage, the doctor has to be very careful in deciding whether to take a case to a verdict. The last thing you need in your life is a $4,000,000 verdict with the plaintiff and his lawyers coming after you for the amount over your insurance coverage.
So, the easy answer seems to be to give the insurance company permission to settle the case and you will avoid the nightmare of a huge verdict against you and you will also avoid having to go to court every day for two weeks while the case is tried. However, you have to truly understand what might happen to you when a case is settled. For instance, all settlements by insurers must be reported to the National Practitioner’s Data Base. So, if you apply to a hospital for privileges or apply to be put on the list of an HMO, the settlement will be seen and taken into consideration during the vetting process. One small settlement in 15 years might not be meaningful, but a very large settlement or multiple settlements might lead to a rejection from the hospital or the HMO.
Also, all settlements have to be reported to the New York State Physician Profile. This Profile can be viewed by the general public. Please note that while generally speaking there have to be more than two settlements to have New York start to publically list settlements under a physician’s name, the State has the discretion to list any settlement even if it the first one for a physician. They can list a settlement if, in their judgment, the case had a “serious” outcome. Therefore, for instance, if there is a settlement under your name for a relatively small amount in a death case, you might very well see this settlement publically listed under your name.
This listing can possibly lead to a request for an interview with you by the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC). This is a very unpleasant situation as no physician wants to be explaining the outcome of a malpractice case to an organization which has the power to issue sanctions against the doctor’s medical license.
Therefore, think carefully when the question arises as to whether to agree to a settlement of the case against you. On one hand you do want to be protected against a verdict that could go far in excess of your malpractice insurance coverage. On the other hand, you do not want to be reported to various agencies as this could truly damage your medical career in the future.
There are many other issues on the subject which would take too much time to discuss, but suffice it to say that you really should get the advice of an experienced attorney so that you have the information to make an informed decision on this type of matter.