Can Doctors Legally Lie to Patients?

Patients trust in the words and recommendations of their doctors. After all, patients seek medical attention for injuries and illnesses because they believe the medical professionals will give them honest opinions and prescribe treatments that will be in their best interests. This is the duty of care federal laws impose on health care practitioners in the U.S. It shocks most people to discover, therefore, that doctors can legally get away with lying to patients in some situations.

What Is a “Lie?”

The issue of physicians “lying” to patients comes down to the definition of the term. This can be subjective from patient to patient, although most will agree it refers to an intentionally false statement. Giving intentionally false information to a patient may seem like something that should always be illegal…until you realize you’ve probably been “lied to” by your doctor a time or two.

Almost all doctors tell lies in some form of the word. Most lie to give hope where it otherwise wouldn’t exist, such as telling family members a coma patient can hear them, even when there is no way for the physician to know if this is true. Others may lie when there is nothing else to do, such as saying a baby with birth deformities is “perfect.” These types of lies – or rather, untruths – do not serve to deceive the recipients, but instead to help patients in dark times.

While these types of “white lies” may not be entirely ethical, they are not strictly against the law unless they cause harm to the patient or others. It is the lies that doctors tell to mask their own mistakes, cover up medical errors, or disguise fraud that are illegal in the medical field. Lies that can or do injure patients (physically, emotionally, or financially) may break the law that holds doctors to strict standards of patient care.

Can You File a Lawsuit Against Your Doctor for Lying?

In West Virginia, a patient can file a medical malpractice lawsuit against a health care practitioner or facility if the identified party failed to use the “degree of care, skill, and learning expected of a reasonable and prudent provider in similar circumstances,” and if this lapse caused the patient’s injury or death. The state’s medical malpractice laws impose a strict burden of proof on injured patients: to show that the defendant owed a duty of care, breached this duty, and caused compensable damages as a result.

Most white lies won’t meet the requirements for a medical malpractice lawsuit in West Virginia. Even if you discover the untruth and are upset that your doctor wasn’t 100% honest, you won’t have grounds for a lawsuit unless you can prove that the white lie constitutes a breach of duty of care, and that it caused you physical injury or emotional pain and suffering. Other types of lies, however, may be serious enough to give the patient the right to file a lawsuit.

Lies That May Breach a Doctor’s Duty of Care

Lies that impact a patient’s ability to give his/her informed consent to a procedure could constitute a severe enough breach of duty for a medical malpractice lawsuit. It is part of a physician or surgeon’s job to inform a patient of potentially serious risks involved in an operation or treatment. The law entitles patients to complete diagnoses, purpose of proposed treatments, available alternative treatments, and the benefits of risks of each treatment type.

A physician who lies or leaves out the truth (either intentionally or negligently) fails in his/her duty to give enough information for an informed consent and may become the center of a lawsuit. Many other situations that involve a doctor lying to a patient could qualify as grounds for a medical malpractice claim in West Virginia. If you believe your doctor lied to you and contributed to your current injuries, illnesses, or other ramifications, contact a medical malpractice lawyer in West Virginia. Hiring an attorney is the best way to strengthen a case against a physician or hospital.