From time-to-time we all need to see a doctor. Some people see a doctor regularly for an ongoing medical condition, and sometimes we need to see a doctor on a more urgent basis. Whatever the reason to see a doctor, we like to trust in our doctor’s education, experience, compassion, and skill to render appropriate care and treatment as needed. Fortunately in the vast majority of visits to a doctor he or she does give appropriate medical care. Unfortunately, however, sometimes doctors fail to provide appropriate care, and as a result of that inappropriate care, or malpractice, the patient is harmed.
Just like the rest of use who occasionally make mistakes, doctors can be made to answer for their malpractice through a lawsuit decided by a jury – at least until recently.
In a case from 2006, the full repercussions of which are just now coming to light, the Ohio Supreme Court has effectively taken away the right to a jury trial against many doctors. In the case of Theobald vs. University of Cincinnati, the Supreme Court held that if a medical student, intern or resident was participating in, or even just observing a doctor while he or she is treating a patient, and that doctor is on the faculty of a state medical school, that under these circumstances the doctor was “teaching” the medical student/intern/resident, and therefore the doctor was acting within the scope of his or her “employment” with the State of Ohio. Therefore, as an employee of the state, under Ohio law the doctor is immune from suit for malpractice in your local county court. The Theobald case can be found at: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2006/2006-Ohio-6208.pdf
Instead, when suing a doctor who qualifies under Theobald as a state employee, suit can only be filed in the Court of Claims in Columbus. The Court of Claims is a special court established by the Ohio General Assembly to hear cases against the state. However, in the Court of Claims there are no juries and the case is determined by a single judge who is appointed by the Governor.
So, even if you see a doctor at his or her private office, far away from any medical school, if there is an “observer” present, and your doctor should commit malpractice, you very well may never have the right to sue that doctor in a court where a jury can determine the fault and monetary compensation to which you’d otherwise be entitled.
ABC affiliate WCPA Channel 9 in Cincinnati recently did a story on the Theobald decision and its impact on patients who had no idea their doctors were working as a state “employee” when they were being treated. This newscast can be found at:
While there is nothing you can do about whether your doctor holds an appointment to or is employed by a state medical school, the next time a doctor asks if you’d mind if a student observes your examination or treatment, keep in mind that by agreeing to that request you may be giving up your right to a jury trial should something go wrong.