As the number of overweight and obese Americans increases, so too is the number of lawsuits against health care providers that are related to obesity. Between 1992 and 2002, they rose 64 percent. According to The Doctors Company, which provides medical liability insurance, there were 415 obesity-related actions between 2007 and 2012. Twenty-five of the patients died.
Orthopedists were most often the defendants in those lawsuits. Behind them were family physicians, followed by anesthesiologists, surgeons (both plastic and general) and internists. A spokesman for the insurer that did the survey said that family doctors were commonly sued because they are more likely to see patients over a long period as they become obese and develop related medical conditions. They can be sued for failing to properly monitor and treat these conditions.
Insurers encourage physicians to communicate directly with their patients and ensure that they understand the consequences of not complying with physicians’ recommendations. Some also recommend having their obese patients sign a form acknowledging that the doctor has discussed the consequences of their weight with them. As one physician and professor of family medicine noted, however, “It’s an area that should be addressed directly and with sensitivity to the often emotional issues that go along with addressing weight issues.”
The circumstances detailed in the medical malpractice lawsuits vary. Some suits arise from complications encountered when patients have measures performed, such as gastric bypass surgery, to lose weight. One case involved a 350-pound person who claimed that he got nerve damage because he was incorrectly placed on a treatment table.
Some Marylanders may hesitate to take action against a physician or medical facility for an injury or illness that was related to their weight. There is often shame involved with being overweight, and patients may be afraid that they will ultimately be blamed for what happened because they could not control their weight. However, anyone who believes that a physician or other medical professional is at fault would be wise to seek legal advice to determine whether he or she may indeed have a case.