Phoebe Prince And Medical Malpractice

Phoebe Prince.jpgThe tragic case of Phoebe Prince, the Northampton, MA teenager bullied into committing suicide, earned national attention and shone a spotlight on schoolyard bullying. It led to criminal charges against the bullies and, last week, the last of the accused teens entered into a plea deal.
None of the teens will be going to jail and there is some public furor over that fact, with many claiming the teens’ sentences were too lenient. (Based on the news accounts that I have read, I have conflicted feelings; my immediate reactions to the appropriateness of the defendants’ sentences vary with respect to the individual defendants and their differing degrees of culpability. Even if some of the teens will escape without carrying a criminal conviction on their record, in this day and age of google footprints each one will, for better or worse, carry these charges with them for life. At any rate, focusing on the on the sentences meted out to the bullying teens neglects the aspect of the case that initially captivated the public: that it seemed almost everyone in town – from teachers to school administrators, parents of classmates and hallway bystanders – shared some degree of responsibility for Phoebe’s death – but, since this diffuse blameworthiness did not fit neatly within the rubric of any criminal offense or civil tort, a lot of wrongdoing will forever go unpunished. One’s heart breaks over what Phoebe’s mother has endured.)
What Phoebe’s case helped illuminate is how serious the problem of bullying can be. It’s not the case that, “Sticks and stones may break my bones”; schoolyard bullying can kill, which is what made the case so surprising to many. And now we have the name and know the face of someone it killed.
After writing my last blog post – on physician-nurse bullying – it occurred to me that bullying also kills in the grownup world of hospitals and emergency rooms, but this problem gets less attention. According to a 2004 study published by the Institute for Safe Medical Practices, seven percent of the nurses surveyed had, within the past twelve months, been involved in a medication error for which doctor intimidation of nurses was at least partly responsible. When seven percent of nurses have within the past twelve months been involved with a medication error attributable to physician bullying, it is a virtual certainty that deaths caused by physician bullying are among the 100,000 deaths caused by medical error each year. But unlike with school-age bullying and Phoebe Prince, most of us can’t name someone whose life was lost to medical bullying.
Phoebe Prince’s death spurred new anti-bullying legislation for which I think we should all be grateful. (It’s about time that we wake up to the reality of child-on-child abuse, the same way that, a generation ago, with the OJ Simpson case, we awakened to the reality of spousal and domestic partner abuse). But deaths caused by doctor-nurse bullying haven’t led to any reforms. Instead, we see states like Florid passing tort “reform” programs that further insulate doctors from the consequences of their actions.

This blog in maintained by the Boston medical malpractice lawyers at The Law Office of Alan H. Crede, P.C.