The Civil War slowed medical malpractice suits

October 2, 2012
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Doctors who think people have never been more litigious than they are today can take heart in knowing that people sued their physicians just as much in the 1850s.

This is what Terre Haute attorney Michael J. Sacopulos discovered after months of research. Now, he’s going to a conference for the National Museum of Civil War Medicine to talk about his findings.

Sacopulos and Dr. David A. Southwick, chief of staff at Union Hospital in Terre Haute, are traveling to Maryland this weekend to present on “Effects of the Civil War upon Medical Malpractice Litigation in the United States.” This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam – the bloodiest one-day battle in American history.

Medical professionals have said they think right now is the worst it’s ever been for doctors as far as medical malpractice lawsuits, which led Sacopulos to do a little digging into the history of medical malpractice suits. Sacopulos, a partner at Sacopulos Johnson & Sacopulos, works with physicians to develop strategies and techniques to avoid medical liability claims.

Sacopulos and Southwick turned to the Internet, as well as books and interviews with medical historians, to find that doctors are about as likely to be sued in the 1850s as they are today.

Most of the cases dealt with orthopedic injuries. Plaintiffs argued that the doctor didn’t do a good job either setting broken bones or performing amputations. Back then, medicine was not standardized and anesthesia was still relatively new. Germs and antibiotics weren’t even considered.

Sacopulos said that with some of the quotes he found from doctors in these old cases, you couldn’t tell if someone was saying them today or 160 years ago. The sentiment from physicians was the same: Lawyers are suing us out of business.

 Even if the prevalence of medical malpractice suits hasn’t changed much now as compared to the 1850s, the outcomes tend to favor doctors more these days. Based on his research, Sacopulos said it appeared as though plaintiffs won more cases 160 years ago.

After the Civil War, there was a decrease in medical malpractice claims across the country. Sacopulos attributes this to the standardization of medicine.

This conference isn’t Sacopulos’ first entry into Civil War-era legal history. Sacopulos wrote an article several years ago about President Abraham Lincoln being a medical malpractice defense attorney in Indiana and Illinois, which is how he caught the attention of the museum.
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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