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.

  • victim of medical malpractice in 2010.
    I never filed a law suite. I had no money for a lawyer. In 2010 I presented for MRI/with contrast. The technician stuck my left arm three times with needle to inject dye. I was w/out O2 for two minutes, not breathing, no ambulance was called. I suffered an Embolism ,Myocardia infarction. Permanent memory loss, heart damage. After the event, I could not remember what I did five seconds earlier. I had no-one to help me. I lost my dental hygiene career, been homeless, etc.

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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.