Courts and Doctors
By Lloyd Paul Stryker
1932/12 - Beard Books - Medical Classic
1893122735 - Paperback - Reprint - 260 pp.
An insight into the principles of law that affect doctors and in particular their involvement in malpractice suits.
This book presents an early exposition of the principles of law that a doctor should be aware of. It is also designed to give judges some understanding by judges of the difficulties of doctors. It covers a legal definition of medicine, the relationship of patient and physician, malpractice actions and defenses, expert testimony, the doctor on the witness stand, and the doctor and criminal law.
From the back cover blurb:
Written from extensive personal experience in defending physicians against malpractice suits, the purpose of this very early book was to acquaint physicians with the court system, as well as to explain some of the issues that judges must wrestle with. The author also hoped it would lead judges to a greater sympathy and understanding of the difficulties of the doctor. Many of the same issues existing when the book was written still arise today. Physicians and lawyers can glean revealing insights from this well-written book.
Review by Henry Berry,
Beginning in the 1930s, medical malpractice lawsuits in New York State began climbing. In 1930, there were 256 lawsuits more than there were the year before, a rise of thirty-three percent. This equated to one lawsuit for every 22 members of the 12,500 members of the Medical Society of the State of New York. During these years, Lloyd Stryker, as the Medical Society’s general counsel, was responsible for advising its members on how to defend themselves against medical malpractice lawsuits. He also acted as the lead counsel for many physician members caught up in the rising tide of lawsuits.
Courts and Doctors was written by the author for the Society’s members as he approached retirement. The Society asked Stryker to make his accumulated knowledge, experience, and observations on courtroom procedures in medical malpractice lawsuits available to educate present and future members. His work then found a much wider audience when it was published by Macmillan in 1932. The basics of a medical malpractice suit have not changed much since that time. Thus, Stryker’s work is still relevant in explaining how a medical malpractice case is handled by the judicial system. Courts and Doctors also offers an appendix of legal cases and indexes with innumerable legal references. These cases and references remain instructive and relevant too.
Stryker wrote Courts and Doctors with the intention that “the medical profession may come to a better understanding of the courts and of the problems with which judges wrestle.” However, the author also hoped that judges would read his book and develop “an even greater sympathy and understanding [of] the difficulties of the doctor” when engaging in his or her profession. New York State’s definition of a doctor offers an explanation of why medical malpractice cases are frequently brought against doctors. The definition – seven lines long – reads, in part, “A person practices medicine...who holds himself out as being able to diagnose, treat, operate or prescribe for any human disease, pain, injury...who shall either offer or undertake by any means or method to diagnose, treat...for any human disease...or physical condition.” Every state has a similarly broad definition that exposes a doctor to liability on many fronts. The author further notes that physicians perform their services under conditions determined to a large extent by the state. In New York State, “[t]he doctor is...a quasi public servant in that he is licensed to practice; and...the State exercises certain privileges and determines in a large measure the conditions under which the physician shall practice.”
Although medical law has remained largely unchanged, the prospect of a malpractice lawsuit is higher than ever. At the time of this book’s writing, doctors were subject to a modest number of laws that prohibited the use of narcotics in the practice of medicine. Today’s doctors are subject to infinitely more laws and extensive regulatory oversight governing the dispensation of medications and other treatments. Also, most physicians practicing today have more staff under their supervision. This, too, raises the stakes for those who choose to practice medicine.
Physicians looking to navigate their way through today’s legal minefields will find Stryker’s book to be an excellent guide. The author offers 11 precautionary measures doctors can follow to minimize the possibility of a malpractice lawsuit and improve considerably their chances of successfully countering a lawsuit if one should be brought against them. Stryker advises giving realistic thought to becoming involved with certain medical conditions or treatments in the first place. For example, he tells doctors to “inquire honestly of yourself whether you are in fact competent to treat or operate for the particular malady which confronts you.” All recommendations of surgery should be fully justified. Stryker also recommends standard “instruments and appliances,” careful record keeping, and keeping up with the latest developments in the medical field.
An introductory chapter and brief recounting of preventive measures is followed with a thorough examination of the basic elements of a medical malpractice case. These include elements found with any civil legal action and also those particular to malpractice cases. Among the former are the statute of limitations, the grounds of the case, and standards of proof. Elements central to a medical malpractice case are expert testimony, standard of care the doctor is said by the plaintiff to have departed from, and the use of medical texts. Aside from exceptional circumstances, which are noted by the author, a plaintiff cannot recover damages in a malpractice lawsuit without the aid of expert testimony. Stryker devotes an entire chapter to this crucial aspect of medical malpractice law. Decisions in medical malpractice cases often hinge on how receptive a judge or jury is to testimony of expert witnesses. Lay persons rarely have the requisite medical knowledge to make informed decisions in these often complex cases. Thus, the witnesses in the case, whether those of the plaintiff or the defendant, have a large bearing on which side prevails.
Courts and Doctors offers a useful and relevant study of medical malpractice law, leaving the reader with a good grounding in the complex legal issues of this subject.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Lloyd Paul Stryker was general counsel of the Medical Society of the State of New York, one of the nation’s leading medical organizations.