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Multiple complaints against same physician can assist plaintiff

The recent two-year suspension of an Ontario gynecologist for professional misconduct highlights the importance of coming forward with complaints of mistreatment or malpractice, Toronto personal injury lawyer Jessica Mahabir tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Earlier this year, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) found that an Ontario gynecologist was incompetent in her personal care of more than 20 patients and ruled that she committed professional misconduct. The Star reports that between 2009 and 2012, more than 30 patients filed complaints with CPSO regarding their treatment by the doctor, dating back to 2003.

Mahabir, an associate with Derfel Injury Lawyers, says CPSO’s decision highlights the importance of coming forward and making a complaint if you are concerned with how you have been treated by your physician.

“Doctors make mistakes. They are human, and people often don’t want to ruin a doctor’s reputation by making a complaint. But the more public confirmation there is, the more pressure there is on the college to take action,” she says.

The pattern of complaints led CPSO to impose restrictions on the gynecologist’s practice, which may have served to protect other women, Mahabir says. According to records, CPSO monitored her work and placed several restrictions on her practice dating back to 2009.

She was found to have performed unnecessary procedures without informed consent, caused injury to her patients, and failed to adequately investigate symptoms or alert patients to the potential risks of surgery.

“The consent issue frequently comes up in medical malpractice cases,” Mahabir says. “If a procedure is not urgent or life-threatening, the element of consent arises. In order to consent, a patient has to be informed of the risks of the specific procedure and the doctor has to set out the most life-threatening and serious effects.”

Mahabir cites cases reported by The Star of unnecessary hysterectomies and one instance where a woman’s sole ovary was removed without her knowledge. “It’s very shocking. If there was no consent at all, it becomes a battery,” she says.

Often patients think that they are the only one who has been badly treated, Mahabir says. “They think that they may be overreacting. Later, they see another person complaining and think ‘I was treated the same way.’”

Multiple complaints against the same doctor can assist a plaintiff if the matter goes to civil court, she adds.

“If there’s a pattern that escalates, it may end up in the news,” Mahabir says.

The Star reports that many women only became aware of the allegations against the gynecologist when a law firm held a news conference in 2011. “Each of the victims thought they were the only one and eventually realized they were one of many,” Mahabir says.

She stresses that people, in the majority of civil court cases, must commence an action within two years of when they first knew that a claim could be made.

“If someone has been improperly treated or received improper care, two years can pass by very quickly. Unfortunately, if the time is up, there is not much that can be done in a civil law context,” Mahabir says.

However, if the limitation period for civil action has expired, disciplinary hearings can still proceed with CPSO but no financial compensation will be awarded.

“CPSO does take every complaint seriously. It will investigate the conduct, although not all mistakes will result in disciplinary action,” Mahabir says.

According to The Star, many of the complainants were disappointed by CPSO’s penalty of a two-year suspension for the doctor. Despite this, Mahabir still encourages clients to make complaints.

“The more public information there is, the more it can influence the types of penalties CPSO gives,” she says.

“The length of time it takes for an investigation to be conducted depends on many factors,” Mahabir notes. “For doctors in a situation like this, who may have ongoing problems and multiple complaints, it can take a while for these things to become public.”

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