Add to the obvious tragedy of medical negligence — death, injury, disability, lost independence, lost dignity, financial ruin, etc., etc. — another torment: guilt. Virtually every client that I have had goes through an endless round of “if only I had ….” In truth, this guilt is misplaced. No matter who you are, how smart you are or how much research you do, at the end of the day, every healthcare consumer puts their life in the hands of a trusted caregiver. When the caregiver fails you, the betrayal breeds guilt. Of all of the inequities faced by victims of medical malpractice, the guilt that they feel is most unfair.
I often think about this misplaced guilt that clients feel. Where does it come from? I have had to counsel most of my clients about their painful feeling that they should have somehow known more than the professional with whom they entrusted their well-being. Making matters worse, the defense often tries to shift the blame back on the patient as a way to avoid responsibility. Jurors, too, are apt to blame the patient when confronted with the horror of malpractice. The latter phenomenon arises out of a well-established subconscious psychological trick that jurors’ minds play on themselves — so-called “defense attribution bias.”
So, there is no easy way to make this dreaded guilt go away. It is there hovering like a vile cloud over every victim of malpractice. The best that I can do is point out that it is not rational. You did nothing wrong. You trusted a doctor or nurse or other caregiver who betrayed your trust. They got lazy or cut corners or didn’t listen carefully to you or didn’t care or took chances with your health that they shouldn’t have taken.
I can also tell you that you are not alone. Every victim of medical negligence feels the exact same way, even though they, too, were at the right place at the right time, unaware that the trusted caregiver was in fact hazardous to their health.