Simple Illness or Potential Lawsuit Territory?

lawerEven if you don’t recognize the name Vibram you would probably recognize the company’s shoes. Vibram makes those shoes that are shaped like toe socks. The company made a killing claiming that the shoes helped improve wearers’ health and that running in them improved foot health. It turns out they were lying. The shoes do nothing to improve the wearer’s health and if people followed the company’s marketing advice—running in bare feet is better—they could have increased health risk.

It shouldn’t surprise our readers that when this was found out, buyers sued and won.

It’s worth noting here because, as doctors, we will often find ourselves at odds with the legal departments of both our own workplaces and the attorneys hired by our patients when they think that we have done them a disservice. Really, though, it is in everybody’s best interests to work together. There are, after all, times when the law is on medicine’s side—and not just when sketchy marketers are trying to make a profit off of a ridiculous looking shoe. Here are a couple more examples of instances in which medicine can help lawyers (and when lawyers can, in turn, help our patients).

Food Poisoning

It happens to even the most careful among us. We eat something that turns out to be funky and then spend a couple of days in intense gastrointestinal distress. We pray for death and then, when death doesn’t come and we eventually get better, we move on. The truth is that food poisoning is more than an inconvenience. It can lead to much larger health issues, especially if the case is severe and leads to other issues.

According to, before a patient can seek legal recourse for food poisoning, they have to prove that they were, in fact, food poisoned and that their symptoms are not caused by anything else. This is where you, and your medical expertise, become indispensable—both for helping your patient prove his or her case and for treating the symptoms so that he or she can feel better and heal.


On the seemingly “other end” of the spectrum there are conditions like mesothelioma—a specific and particularly insidious form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is a tricky condition because the patient can have it for years, sometimes even decades, before displaying any symptoms. Even when the symptoms do finally show up, they are often mistaken for other conditions. What sets mesothelioma apart from other types of cancer is that it is almost always the result of asbestos exposure.

This is important for legal reasons because the use of certain types of asbestos was banned in 1985 in the UK and an across the board ban on asbestos was put in place in 1999 (the US has had a ban on asbestos use for decades too). And even though a person’s current diagnosis might result from exposure that happened before those dates, the exposure is always the result of someone’s decision and that, almost everyone agrees, makes the decider at fault for the patient’s

It is important, whether you’re dealing with something relatively innocuous as food poisoning or as severe as mesothelioma to fight back, say attorneys Baron and Budd (source: the Baron And Budd P.C. website). Fighting back, they say, isn’t just about righting your current patient’s wrong. It is about preventing harm for others in the future.

You probably have the same feelings when treating your patients. You don’t want to see them spread a disease to others so you tell them how to keep safe while still contagious and how to protect themselves from others that might have contagious conditions.

So really—you and those lawyers have more in common than you think! That is just one of many reasons it is important to work together.