The Life News in Kentucky reported last week the story of a medical malpractice suit brought by a Louisville couple against an obstetrician, claiming the wrongful death of their one-day-old baby girl. Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleges that Dr. Ronachi Banchongmanie delivered their baby girl using “vacuum extractions.” Although the baby appeared pale and had rapid respirations, she was not sent to ICU but instead sent to the newborn nursery where further complications developed in the absence of emergency care.
Obviously, allegations made in a medical malpractice lawsuit are just one side’s version of the facts. But Dr. Banchongmanie is what medical malpractice lawyers refer to as a frequent flyer. This medical malpractice action was the second filed against him in the last two years, and one of more than a dozen medical malpractice lawsuits filed against this doctor in the last fifteen years.
Frequent Flyer Doctors
We also encounter frequent flyers doctors who have often been the subject of malpractice complaints. For example, our firm is handling a case against a doctor in Salisbury, Maryland that our firm has seen many times over again. We settled a case against a surgeon last year and I have seen his name in three more cases since then.
We have investigated three or four cases filed against this Salisbury doctor in the last few years. It makes you wonder just how many clients have walked into a lawyer’s office and alleged that this doctor had committed medical malpractice.
What is unfortunate is that we rejected the other cases against this doctor because our lawyers believed that while there were medical errors, there were issues as to the amount of damages or as to causation of the victim’s injuries. Now, we have a viable case against this doctor. But most malpractice cases end just this way — a lawyer telling a victim that the injuries might be serious but not serious enough for a medical malpractice case.
What is the likely outcome? We sue him, the client gets a recovery – either by settlement or at trial – and the doctor continues to practice medicine, albeit paying higher medical malpractice insurance premiums. No one is suggesting that this doctor or these other frequent flyer doctors are bad people, but should these doctors be allowed to continue to harm patients when any sort of reasonable inquiry would establish that they should not be treating patients?
Small Number of Doctors Create a Large Number of Problems
One study by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services suggests that frequent flyer medical malpractice offenders are a bulk of the “problem” of rising insurance costs. Just 5% of the doctors who make malpractice payments are responsible for almost one-third of the medical malpractice payouts.
Logic tells us that of the almost 100,000 deaths a year that the federal government tells us are caused by medical malpractice, a disproportionate amount of these deaths are caused by a very small subset of doctors. (2019 update: Johns Hopkins tells us the medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in this country. Please really process that for a minute.)
The take-home message from all of this is that if we could do a better job of policing doctors and weeding out the bad doctors, it would lower insurance premiums and there would be a lot fewer medical error suits in Maryland. There should a rule that a certain number of malpractice cases — I’ll leave to wiser minds to determine the number — should trigger an investigation. It does not mean that we assume the doctor is bad doctor by the mere filing of lawsuits against her. But it would just lead to an investigation to dig into the issue of whether the doctor is fit to practice medicine.