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Malpractice may extend to doctors for botched autopsies

Medical malpractice can take many forms. A recent story involving an Idaho doctor demonstrates the various settings in which potential medical negligence may arise.

The doctor gave up his medical license rather than fight allegations that he botched several autopsies. An investigation by the state board of medicine led to evidence that the doctor let his staff members practice medicine without a license, abused and exploited patients and gave substandard care.

The doctor had completed a year-long forensic fellowship and was hired to perform autopsies. The complaint filed by the board of medicine did not identify the autopsies at issue, but an investigation matched information in the complaint to several cases. One case involved the unsolved deaths of three family members. The doctor said they died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Later, bullets or bullet fragments were found in the family member’s heads. Another case involved the death of a woman whose granddaughter was charged with her murder. The charges were brought in part based on the doctor’s assessment in the autopsy. The charges against the granddaughter were later dropped.

The physician’s lawyer said he was stuck between board investigators who didn’t have all the facts and law-enforcement officers that didn’t like his findings. Another attorney for the doctor said he was near retirement when the autopsies occurred.

Whether or not the doctor may have opened himself up to a medical malpractice lawsuit has yet to be seen. The doctor denies the allegations, but decided not to fight them. He agreed to keep an inactive medical license allowing him to work as a consultant or other nonphysician position in the medical field.

Source: Idaho Statesman, “Pocatello doctor accused of botching autopsies gives up his license,” Audrey Dutton, Oct. 16, 2012