Malpractice motto finds analogy in real-life tale

February 1, 2007

Over the years I have attended a lot of lectures on malpractice suits, or more specifically, how to avoid them. I've even attended a five-day course devoted entirely to medicolegal issues.

Over the years I have attended a lot of lectures on malpractice suits, or more specifically, how to avoid them. I've even attended a five-day course devoted entirely to medicolegal issues. It was one of the medical-dental-legal updates offered by AEI.

The course is held every week in about 25 resorts around the western hemisphere. About half of the course sites are ski areas, and the other half are beach resorts. I attended the Sanibel Island course. Every morning I went to a small hotel room with about eight chairs and a television. The other participants and I signed a log book and watched the videotaped course for four hours each day. The combination of a dark room, taped lectures, and legal topics will render you about as close to comatose as a human can be while still remaining continent.

Each morning, before I passed out, I did learn quite a bit. Most of the "speakers" were entertaining and informative. The tuition is very reasonable: about $400 the last time I looked. It entitles you to attend the course as often as you wish for a year. This came in handy when my daughter and I went skiing a few months later. I saw a sign for the course at our hotel and turned our vacation into a business trip, and it only cost me a couple of hours each morning.

We are building a new home. We spent the better part of a year designing it, and it has been under construction for about one year. Much to our surprise, it has been a really fun experience, at least until the last few months.

Our subcontractor was scheduled to start Sept 1. Near the end of August, he called to say he was behind on his current job and would start a month late. In mid-October he showed up. He set up his scaffolding, unloaded his equipment, and worked all day. A week later he came back and worked a second day. Whenever he is asked, he promises he is on the job now and will stay until it is done, and then he leaves for a week. Ten weeks later, our five-week job is about one-half complete. I neglected to put a time clause in the contract. Our project has come to a halt until this aspect of it is finished.

All of those legal lectures stress the importance of establishing a good relationship with your patient. If you are honest, open, caring, considerate, and respectful of your patients, they will be far more tolerant of human errors. Most people will not sue someone they really like. This sub should have attended these lectures.

Until recently, I had no recourse for his unreliability, but then he made a mistake. This project incorporates a distinctive color scheme. It has become evident (when the sun is just right) that he has been mixing two slightly different shades of the same color in completing the project. If we had established a relationship of trust and mutual respect, the variations might be interpreted as adding character to our reproduction farm house. Alas, we're not exactly drinking buddies, so most of the work will have to be redone, and I won't be paying for it.

Whenever I mention we're building a house to others, they feel compelled to tell me a horror story from their own building experience or one from a friend.

It seems everyone has had his or her own misfortunes with contractors. It's unnerving how many of these stories are out there, spanning the breadth of the construction industry. I've heard them all. Until recently, I would always counter with how smoothly our project was going. Now, for the rest of my life, I can respond with my story about the sub from hell.

Dr. Tipler is a private-practice radiologist in Staunton, VA. He can be reached by fax at 540/332-4491 or by e-mail at