Two Terre Haute amateur historians recently spoke at the 20th Annual Conference on Civil War Medicine.
The literature has been relatively sparse on the topic of mid-19th century medical malpractice litigation. Professional liability was an area of great concern for Civil War physicians and surgeons. On Oct. 6, because of the sheer magnitude of the claims and their impact on the profession, David A. Southwick and Michael J. Sacopulos, gave a presentation on “Effects of the Civil War upon Medical Malpractice Litigation in the United States” in Hagerstown, Md.
Across the country in the 1840s and 1850s, medical practitioners were subjected to a wave of claims requesting compensation for medical negligence.
“We will examine typical cases filed in court against physicians and their medical underpinning prior to the Civil War,” Sacopulos said.
Anesthetic, non-standardized medical practices and competing schools of medical practice set the stage for what has been accurately described as the “first medical malpractice crisis” in the United States.
Together Southwick and Sacopulos examined medical negligence claims of both civilian and military nature. Did malpractice claims vary in volume or type between military and civil physicians? Were issues involved in these claims similar? During their presentation they answered questions by case study analysis of both court martial and civilian trial preceding.
In the years immediately following the Civil War, there was a decrease in medical malpractice claims being filed against physicians across the country. They explored different causes for the decrease in medical negligent claims. They examined the nature of the claims that were filed during this time period.
“What is most interesting is that the forces driving malpractice … are essentially the same today,” Southwick said.
Southwick, currently chief of staff at Union Hospital, graduated from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and the University Of Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine. He is board certified in general surgery and is certified in hand surgery as well as in wound care. He has been a practicing physician for more than 20 years.
Sacopulos is the founder and president of Medical Risk Institute. He is also a partner with Sacopulos, Johnson & Sacopulos. His practice focuses on assisting health care providers in developing strategies and techniques to avoid medical liability claims. He also assists physicians with cyber law issues such as online defamation. Sacopulos returned to Indiana to practice law after attending Harvard College and the London School of Economics.