Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Is Evidence Of A Doctor's Past Drug/Alcohol Impairment Admissible In An Ohio Malpractice Lawsuit?

Answer: it depends, but probably not. In a recent Ohio malpractice case, a dentist was sued for malpractice. Approximately 10 years before the lawsuit, the dentist was suspended indefinitely by The Ohio State Dental Board for "“inability to practice under accepted standards of the profession because of physical or mental disability, dependence on alcohol or other drugs, or excessive use of alcohol or other drugs.”

As part of the suspension, the dentist was required to successfully complete rehab, at which time her license would be reinstated, subject to a 5 year probationary period. Well after she had been completed her probation, she was sued for malpractice.

The issue: was her previous suspension admissible in a malpractice case when she was not impaired at the time of the alleged malpractice? The Ohio Court said no, because this evidence was too prejudicial against the dentist. This makes some sense; after all, if she had straightened her life out and was not impaired at the time of her alleged malpractice, there's a good argument for excluding that evidence. The Ohio Rules Of Evidence should give her or anyone else the benefit of the doubt in that situation.

However, the Court went further and ruled that evidence of her previous suspension was not allowed to be heard by the jury even when she testified that she had an excellent reputation in the community. This is wrong, in my opinion, because it allows her to tout her excellence in front of the jury, yet shield the truth--that, maybe, her "rep" was not so spotless after all.

The moral of the story? The playing field is often tilted in favor of the medical profession in Ohio medical malpractice cases due to rulings like this one.

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