It can be difficult to escape the presence of alcohol during the holidays. Many office holiday parties involve drinking; grocery stores display gift sets of various kinds of liquor; family get-togethers often involve eggnog, mulled wine, or other holiday-themed drinks.
You might not care if your cousin kicks back with a glass of eggnog at your family Christmas party, but if your cousin is an on-call surgeon, you may raise your eyebrows. Medical professionals famously can’t count on being home for the holidays. While your cousin refills his glass, you may be wondering — can the doctors at Deaconess Midtown, St. Vincent, or Evansville State Hospital legally drink while they’re on call?
The answer, unfortunately, is yes.
The Risks of Drinking on Call
Addiction can affect anyone, even the best and brightest doctors in the nation. One 2012 study revealed that 15 percent of surgeons likely suffer from an alcohol problem. According to the Los Angeles Times, rates drug and alcohol addiction in the general population are around 8 to 10 percent, while among physicians, the rate is between 10 and 15 percent.
One small study revealed that many doctors and medical professionals refuse to drink while on call as a matter of principle. Some believe it’s okay to have a drink or two, socially. Still others push the limits and think it’s perfectly acceptable to have four or more drinks.
It’s easy to understand why this is a matter of personal responsibility for physicians rather than something that can be legally enforced. Physicians who are on call aren’t technically on the clock. You’re unlikely to find a debate about whether or not physicians can drink while at the hospital or while practicing medicine — that’s clearly not allowed. It’s when doctors might have to clock in that things become murky.
Unless the physician admits to intoxication or another medical professional sounds the alarm, there are few safety measures in place to stop an intoxicated doctor from practicing medicine. The risks of operating while intoxicated can be devastating. Just ask Alex Sims, a woman who was in induced labor in May 2015 in Nevada when Dr. Frank DeLee showed up to deliver her baby, reeking of alcohol. During delivery, he talked openly about coming to the hospital from happy hour, where he had been drinking tequila. Sims’ child was born with Erb’s Palsy due to DeLee’s rough delivery, causing paralysis to the arm due to nerve damage.
If Your Doctor Has Been Drinking, Is It Medical Malpractice?
If you believe your doctor was practicing medicine while intoxicated, you may be wondering if you have a medical malpractice case on your hands. Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer.
In Indiana, in order to have a medical malpractice case, you have to suffer damages as a direct result of your doctor’s negligence. That means that your doctor’s actions (or lack of action) directly caused your injury.
If you discover that your doctor was intoxicated while you were under their care, that’s not an automatic medical malpractice case. What matters is whether or not you suffered injuries and what caused those injuries. If you suffered no injuries, it likely wouldn’t be a medical malpractice case. You could take steps to make sure people knew this doctor was operating while intoxicated, but you likely wouldn’t receive any compensation or damages for your actions.
It also matters whether or not your injuries were caused by your doctor’s intoxication or if they were caused by the routine risks involved with your procedure. For example, let’s say that you underwent surgery while your anesthesiologist was intoxicated. After surgery, you suffered from nausea for a few days. Nausea is a common side effect of anesthesia, so your anesthesiologist’s intoxication likely didn’t play a role in causing that side effect.
However, let’s say you underwent surgery and your surgeon was intoxicated and left a piece of medical equipment inside of you, causing severe injuries and another surgery. An experienced Evansville medical malpractice attorney could argue that the surgeon wouldn’t have acted so negligently if they hadn’t been intoxicated. Such a situation could be a case of medical malpractice.
Help from an Evansville Medical Malpractice Attorney
If you’re drinking during the holiday season, please make sure to drink responsibly. If the medical professionals in your life don’t follow such advice and you become injured as a result, Hensley Legal Group may be able to help. Call our Evansville medical malpractice attorneys today or contact us online for a free conversation about your case.