“It wasn’t like, I’m going to lie.” It was, “I’m going to support my colleague.”
This was the mindset of Dr. Lars Aanning, a retired South Dakota surgeon, when he testified at a medical malpractice trial roughly 20 years ago. At the time, he claimed he had never seen his colleague perform any work that was “substandard”. While he hopes his lie did not influence the juries decision to render a verdict in favor of the defendant doctor, there is no denying that his testimony – that of another surgeon in the room at the time the alleged malpractice occurred – likely had a profound effect on the jury.
All physicians take an oath to do no harm when they begin their medical career. However, there appears to be another oath that some physicians take – the oath of silence. Studies have shown that physicians generally do not favor informing patients about mistakes and that health care workers are afraid to speak up if things do not seem right. Even if they wanted to voice their concerns, many doctors and nurses fear they would face retaliation for doing so.
In a recent interview with ProPublica, Dr. Aanning discussed his reasons for lying and why he decided to finally tell the truth. He points to his recent retirement and the fact that “they can’t hurt [him]” as his primary basis for telling the truth. When he was practicing, there was an expectation that he “band together with [his] peers” or else he would risk being like “a man without a country.”
He hopes that his story can help change the process by which medical malpractice cases are handled. His goal in finally telling the truth is to highlight that you cannot always rely on physician testimony in court. Now that he is retired, he recognizes that patients are at a disadvantage when trying to bring a claim for malpractice:
“It was never a level playing field for the plaintiff. People don’t recognize it. How the judges don’t recognize it and the system doesn’t recognize it is beyond me.”
While we certainly appreciate Dr. Aanning having the courage to come forward and trying to shed some light on this issue, it is not that people do not recognize the problem. The problem is that the culture of “silence” is so ingrained in the medical profession that it requires an inside-out solution. It is not the role of a judge to know when a physician is lying. It is that physician’s responsibility to not lie in the first place.
The attorneys at Leeseberg & Valentine have the experience to determine when physicians are lying and the skills to expose them when they do. If you or someone you know has been a victim of medical negligence, please contact us to see if we can be of assistance.