We’d like to think that doctors don’t have racial biases. After all, they are often in control of keeping us alive or healthy, and we’d like to enter the medical system with the faith that we will receive the best care possible. But they do have biases–racial biases. And, what’s worse, these biases–if you’re black or Latino[1]–may lead to you receiving inferior care. Thankfully, health care professionals have started to call out racial biases in their field.

It is unfortunate but true that only a small percentage of practicing doctors in the United States are black or Latino. 56.2% (516,304) of such doctors are white. Meanwhile, 5.8% (53,526) are Latino and 5% are black (45,534), according to 2019 data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

The paucity of black and Latino doctors may lead to suboptimal care for you if you are a member of the black or Latino community. Yes, the way doctors–the highly-educated and the highly-trained professionals that they are–care for a patient is sometimes affected by the patient’s race. Your doctor may secretly hold racist points of view that affect the quality of care you receive. Excerpts from physician Danielle Ofri’s 2013 book What Doctors Feel are elucidating. Dr. Ofri writes:

Patients can seem so different from doctors that the doctors can have trouble identifying with them.

Some of the challenges to empathy arise from cultural and language barriers. . . . Hispanic patients have a reputation for being very vocal about their symptoms (whence arises the hospital-slang diagnosis Hispanic Hysterical Syndrome). These patients never seem to stop complaining, and doctors rapidly stop listening.

“Hispanic Hysterical Syndrome” is a deplorable, racist phrase. It is hostile toward Latinos, judging them to be too unrestrained, too immature, too unsophisticated to appropriately express themselves. It assumes that having a stiff upper lip, an attribute credited to British people, is superior. It is shameful that such a phrase could find sustenance among doctors.

Dr. Ofri continues:

I have one patient who has been in my practice for many years. Maríssima Alvarez is a sixty-two-year-old woman from Ecuador who is fortunate enough to be free of the diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease that plague most of my other patients her age. But she does have chronic aches and pains that bring her to my office with an impressive frequency. She probably has some combination of arthritis and a chronic pain syndrome. I respect this and try to take her symptoms seriously . . . The problem is that every symptom is “the worst ever.”

. . .

As Ms. Alvarez’s doctor, I am supposed to examine every medical complaint with equal concern, because one of them might represent something serious or life-threatening. But when every symptom ranks 10 (or more) on the scale of 1 to 10, this can be challenging, to say the least.

Whenever I hear her voice on the phone, I can’t help the inner groan, the here-we-go-again reaction. I’ve caught myself starting to tune her out, mumbling or nodding absently to each of her “worst ever” symptoms.

Did Dr. Ofri shoehorn her patient’s behavior into the racist “Hispanic Hysterical Syndrome” narrative? While chronic pain syndromes can have an absolutely devastating impact on one’s quality of life, it seems unlikely that each and every symptom was literally described by her patient as the “worst ever.” It seems much more likely that remnants of the “Hispanic Hysterical Syndrome” narrative contributed to Dr. Ofri’s assessment of her patient–and in turn contributed to Dr. Ofri tuning out the patient. It’s certainly worth wondering whether she would have tuned out a patient who was a non-Hispanic, white woman, or whether she would have more empathy for that patient.

The truth is that some health care professionals privately harbor racist views. Hell, just this week, an Indiana nurse was fired for openly expressing her racist views. What’s unfortunate is that these views may affect the quality of care you receive.

But, what can be done to improve the quality of care? One thing we as individuals can and should do is hold doctors and other health care professionals accountable for the errors they make. All too often individuals who are injured by health care professionals never seek the help of a medical malpractice attorney.

The videotaped death of George Floyd has brought increased awareness to racial biases, even the racial biases that lives in the field of health care. For this, present and future patients should be thankful.


[1] Of course, there are many people who are black and Latino. Unfortunately, the common framework that construes whites, blacks, and Latinos as mutually exclusive groups ignores, among others, the millions of black Latinos.

Related Articles

A Black Lives Matter March vs. Med Mal Laws

In past posts, I’ve written about the absurdly low cap on non-economic damages in Maryland medical malpractice cases (the cap for, among other things, physical pain, grief, and the loss of the enjoyment of life).

I have urged state lawmakers to eliminate the cap–to bring Maryland in line with many other states.

Well, there has been some movement … in California.

Well, California is like Maryland: both states have a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, and the caps are ridiculously low.

In past posts, I’ve noted that these low caps are an underappreciated civil rights issue.

Folks in California are beginning to treat it like such. Read the report and watch the video:

Changing Med Mal Damages Cap in Virginia? What’s Up with Maryland?

In Virginia, a bipartisan group of senators is leading an effort to “cancel the cap,” to eliminate the cap on damages that can be recovered by an injured person in a medical malpractice case. This is a big deal. For the residents of Virginia and also for the efforts or the hope that it could inspire in neighboring states,  like our state of Maryland.

Virginia, right now, has one of the strictest, most unjust, most ridiculous caps on damages that injured people can recover if they’ve been injured on account of a doctor, or a nurse, or a hospital’s negligence.   

The cap limits the damages a person can recover to a little over $2,000,000.

Now, $2,000,000 is a lot of money from one perspective. I think a lot of people would be happy to have $2,000,000 in the bank, but $2,000,000 isn’t as great as it once seemed to be. Most of us realize this, especially when we see news anchors talk about stimulus bills that are worth 1.9 trillion dollars every evening. Further, when the cost of healthcare continues to rise, when the cost of treating conditions caused by the medical malpractice continues to rise, $2,000,000 often seems downright unfair.

If someone is injured by a doctor’s negligence, by a doctor’s failure to exercise the requisite skill, and then the injured person’s attorney proves in court that the injured person will have future medical costs of 10 million dollars, then $2,000,000 begins to feel like pennies.

The injured person and their family will be on the hook for the other $8,000,000. Meanwhile the injured person–due to the doctor’s negligence–might not be in the physical or mental state to earn any money, let alone $8 million.

A misdiagnosis, a screwed-up surgery, a delivery doctor missing signs of fetal distress, or various other forms of medical malpractice can leave a patient needing medical care for the rest of their life.

And that’s why it’s so important that people in Virginia applaud the state senators who are fighting to eliminate the damages cap.

Now, Maryland also has a statute that limits the amount of compensation a plaintiff can receive for certain damages in a medical malpractice case. While not as bad a Virginia’s cap, it also is unfair to victims and should be eliminated.

Can You Sue for the Exacerbation of a Prior Injury in Maryland?

A patient (the plaintiff) in a medical malpractice case is, generally, ill or disabled when he or she goes under the care of the doctor (the defendant). Can such a plaintiff win a medical malpractice case, if the only injury he or she suffered is the worsening of an already existing injury?

The simple answer, for Maryland, is yes. A plaintiff can successfully seek money damages for the aggravation of a preexisting injury.

The question, however, is a fair one.

After all, if the previous injury or condition relates to the same part of the body that the plaintiff is seeking compensation for, then it can create problems for the jury in determining what would be fair compensation for the injury the defendant’s negligence actually caused.

Further, at trial, the defendant doctor may even argue that, while the plaintiff has an injury, the plaintiff has not been further injured. The lack of a substantial, additional injury could be a persuasive defense, likely creating in the jury a reluctance to find the defendant doctor to blame.

Preexisting injury cases present special challenges. Many plaintiff attorneys will avoid taking them, but not all of us will.

If you have suffered an injury due to the negligence of a medical professional in Maryland, you may have questions about your legal options. If you have not yet started a lawsuit and are contemplating bringing one, I encourage you to contact me today. I can answer your legal questions and would love to talk with you. You can reach me at 410-513-9978 or by email at stefan.akorli@fintusinjuryfirm.com.

As a Patient, a Black Doctor Is Struck by Racial Bias in Healthcare

The simple truth is that the healthcare system in the United States is biased against black patients. Numerous studies, some of which have been the subject of posts on this blog, reveal this bias. But, let’s face it, many people are unaware of this bias, and many people who are aware don’t regard eliminating the bias as a priority. Look no further than a recent leaked video call between Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and civil rights leaders: in the 100-minute call, there was not a single specific mention of racial bias in the healthcare system.

If–during the darkest days of a global health crisis–neither civil rights leaders, nor the black vice president elect, nor the Democratic president-elect mention racial bias in the healthcare system, are these biases really that significant?

They are! A tearjerker of an article in The New York Times¸ “Black Doctor Dies of Covid-19 After Complaining of Racist Treatment,”makes this answer plenty clear.

The article tells the story of a 52-year-old, black patient fighting coronavirus. From her hospital bed, the patient, with oxygen tubes going into her nose and teary eyes, held her smartphone and hit record. In the video, the patient relayed an experience that many black Americans may find as relatable as being mistreated by the police: she relayed her dissatisfaction with the medical treatment she was receiving.

But hang on a minute. This was not an ordinary patient. What separated this patient from most is that she herself was a medical doctor.  

Rest in Peace, Dr. Susan Moore

In the video, which went viral after she posted it to Facebook, Dr. Susan Moore said, among other things, that a white doctor at the hospital had downplayed her complaints of pain. He told her that he felt uncomfortable giving her more narcotics to treat her pain and suggested that she would be discharged from the hospital. She said, in the video, “I was crushed.” She continued, “He made me feel like I was a drug addict.” She did not get the treatment and the respect she said she deserved.

Did her race have anything to do with it? Mountains of research articles indicate that black patients often receive treatment inferior to their white counterparts, especially when it comes to pain management. In her video, Dr. Moore addressed the question plainly: “I put forth and I maintain if I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through [hoops to get pain medicine].”

But go through it, she did–until she made a viral video. After making the video complaining of the medical treatment, Dr. Moore received care that she said “adequately treated” her pain, and she was eventually sent home.

A little more than two weeks after she posted the video–and just a few days before Christmas– she died. According to her 19-year-old son, she died of complications from coronavirus.

What’s the bottom line?

Until we make it a priority to wrestle with racial bias in medical treatment so many of us and our loved ones will needlessly suffer and needlessly die.

What Can Be Done to Improve Healthcare for Blacks in America

There are many things we can do. From my perspective as an attorney, I’ll mention two.

First, we can and should hold treating doctors accountable. All too often people who are injured by doctors never seek the help of an attorney. Suing a doctor for his or her negligence is about putting justice into business and improving healthcare.

Second, we should urge civil rights organizations, like the NAACP, to push lawmakers–especially those in blue states–to fix medical malpractice laws. For example, in Maryland, lawmakers should lengthen the applicable statute of limitations and eliminate the cap on damages for pain and suffering.

It’s crucial to remember that when black people lose their lives, or limbs, or organs, or loved ones because of racial bias in healthcare and then the law limits their ability to sue and recover substantial damages for the loss, that’s a civil rights issue.

38 Races for Governor in the Next 2 Years–Wow!

After the death of George Floyd earlier this year, a group of black healthcare leaders said the medical system must confront the ingrained biases within the medical profession. For years prior to Floyd’s death, medical research has shown that, in America, blacks receive inferior medical treatment, compared to whites.

In some blog posts, I have pointed out that one way we should aim to fix healthcare inequality is by holding our elected officials, at the state-level, accountable. We should hold them accountable to fix laws that underpin healthcare inequality, such as laws that limit damages, laws that limit the time an injured person must file a lawsuit, and laws that limit liability.

Governors play a key role in state lawmaking. For example, in Maryland, the governor signs bills passed by the General Assembly into law, or she vetoes them, or she allows them to become law by neither signing nor vetoing.

This year–with its health crisis, lockdowns, and debates about immunity from COVID lawsuits–showed just how important governors can be.[1]

Soon many Americans will have the opportunity to choose new governors. As Politico astutely observes, the next two years could dramatically reshape who occupies the governors’ mansions.

According to Politico, “[t]hirty-eight of 50 states—accounting for nearly 85 percent of the U.S. population—will hold gubernatorial elections between 2021 and 2022.”

Maryland is one of them.

Maryland’s Gubernatorial Election

In Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan will not be running for election.  About the race for governor in Maryland, Politico writes:

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, a Black Republican, has the inside track for the GOP nomination after serving alongside the popular Hogan for eight years. But Rutherford has never been on a ballot on his own, and the GOP primary electorate may seek a Trumpier candidate after Hogan’s record of criticizing the outgoing president.

The article continues:

The flood of Democratic candidates started with long-time state Comptroller Peter Franchot but won’t end there. Reps. David Trone, Kweisi Mfume and Anthony Brown — who lost to Hogan in 2014 — are possible candidates.

It will be interesting to see if the candidates have a plan for reducing race-based disparities in the quality of healthcare hospitals, doctors, and nurses provide. It will be interesting to see if any of the gubernatorial candidates across the nation have a plan.

I’ll be the first to volunteer for or donate to a candidate who does.


[1] Interestingly, some of the nation’s Democratic governors kowtowed to lobbyists and seemingly told ordinary folks to kick rocks: for example, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo bashed proposals to expand Medicare to cover everyone, approved health insurance companies’ steep premium increases during the pandemic, and jumped at the chance to help lobbyists by shielding nursing homes from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

Why Birth Injuries Are a Special Risk for So Many in the US

As Americans, we like to think of ourselves as belonging to the greatest country in the world. However, the dispiriting truth is that when it comes to many facets of life, we’re just a middling, average, not-so-special group. The pandemic has laid this bare. While the world’s most populous nation, China, has successfully escaped the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re still losing thousands of parents, siblings, grandparents, and cousins every day.  

Should it be surprising that America is not exceptional when it comes to dealing with the pandemic, a health crisis? Absolutely not.

Just look at birth injury statistics.

When it comes to maternal death rates among developed nations, the United States is worst. To put it plainly, the United States is the most dangerous place in the developed world to give birth. About 700 mothers die, and more than 50,000 mothers suffer severe injuries during childbirth each year. Significantly, according to a USA Today investigation, a least half of these deaths could have been prevented and half of the injuries reduced or prevented with better care. What’s more, the maternal death and injury rate in the US has continued to climb; the maternal death and injury rate in the world’s other developed nations, they’ve been decreasing.

When it comes to birth injuries suffered by infants, the statistics also present a gloomy picture for the United States. Look at the statistic for injuries suffered per thousand births. In the United States, there are 47.8 injuries to infants for each 1,000 births. In France there are 39.7. In Austria, 41.6. In Australia, 41.7. In Italy, 43.2. In Spain, 43.4. In Finland, 43.8. In the UK, 43.8. In Germany, 43.8.

What can be done?

We can and should hold doctors accountable for the errors they make. All too often individuals who are injured by doctors never seek the help of a medical malpractice attorney. Suing a doctor for his or her negligence is not about putting the doctor out of business; it’s about putting justice and good healthcare practices into business.

The Purpose of a Med Mal Lawsuit–To Put Justice in Business

The most basic purpose of any personal injury lawsuit is to make the injured man, woman, or child “whole.” Stated simply, the law tries to put the injured person as nearly as possible in the same position as he or she would be in if the medical malpractice had not happened. In medical malpractice cases, the primary way this happens is through payment of money.

Through money, a plaintiff may be compensated for a variety of things he or she has lost or will lose. A plaintiff may be compensated for concrete things, like future medical expenses, and intangible things, like the loss of the ability to enjoy life.

But compensation is not all. Lawsuits have another great benefit–a societal benefit. When you sue a hospital, or a doctor, you do your part in helping improve the quality of local healthcare. This will benefit our community. After all, nearly all of us can envision needing medical care in the future, and we’d like to receive non-negligent medical care. For the sake of illustration, let’s look at the story of Libby Zion.

Dr. Paul Ruggieri, in his book Confessions of a Surgeon, notes the impact that a lawsuit filed by the family of Ms. Zion had:

Times have changed for [medical] residents. It all changed because of the unexpected death of a patient in a New York city hospital in 1984. Libby Zion walked into an emergency room, ill and looking for care. She left in a body bag. Her father was a high-profile citizen of the city and would not accept the initial explanations of her death as fact. At his legal and political urging, state authorities investigated the details of Libby’s care (helped along by his vigorous lawsuit). In the end, the legal case and investigation uncovered what most residents already knew and lived.

Libby Zion’s death exposed the exhaustive pressures and lack of supervision that were the norm in many training programs, both of which increased the potential for serious mistakes, and led to reforms including the number of hours residents could work continuously without sleep. Libby’s death ultimately closed the door on residencies rooted in the old way of thinking ….

For your community, a medical malpractice lawsuit you file can have a profound effect.

If you have suffered an injury due to the negligence of a medical professional in Maryland, you may have questions about your legal options. If you have not yet started a lawsuit and are contemplating bringing one, I encourage you to contact me today. I can answer your legal questions and would love to talk with you. You can reach me at 410-513-9978 or by email at stefan.akorli@fintusinjuryfirm.com.

Black College-Educated Parents and the Mortality Rates of Black Infants

In the United States, there is a disturbing disparity between black and white infant mortality rates.[1] In 2016, the likelihood that a black infant would die of causes attributable to perinatal events was more than 230% higher than the likelihood a white infant would.

Unsurprisingly, the disparity between black and white infant mortality rates in the US is not a new phenomenon: in the 19th century, W. E. B. Du Bois studied the racial disparity in infant mortality rates. At that time, the black infant mortality rate was 340 per 1,000 live births, while the white infant mortality rate was 217 per 1,000.

What may be slightly more surprising is that the disparity in mortality rates is present within the demographic of infants born to two college-educated parents. Put plainly, even black infants born to two college-educated parents fare worse than similarly situated white infants.

In a 1992 study, researchers used the National Linked Birth and Infant Death Files for 1983 through 1985 to calculate infant mortality rates for children born to two college-educated parents. The population in the study consisted of 865,128 white infants and 42,230 black infants.

The researchers found that, in this population, the infant mortality rate was 10.2 per 1,000 live births for black infants and 5.4 per 1,000 live births for white infants.  

Low birth weight infants drove the disparity: the rate of low birth weight was more than twice as high among blacks (7 percent) as among whites (3 percent). Meanwhile, the researchers found that the mortality rates for black and white infants was equal among those infants who were not low birth weight infants.[2]

The researchers appropriately noted that “[t]he excess rate of low birth weight among black infants and the excess deaths of black infants due to perinatal causes raise concern about the health of black college-educated women and the perinatal care they receive.”

When black women receive substandard healthcare from physicians or other healthcare personnel, it’s a serious problem. When standard medical care does not adequately address the needs of black women, it’s a serious problem. When the psychological toll of being black and a woman in America results in physiological risks, it’s a serious problem.

What can be done to improve things?

One thing we can and should do is to hold our lawmakers–especially when they come from blue states–accountable. For example, there should be a steep political price for behaving as the Governor of Rhode Island has behaved recently.

Governor Gina Raimondo has (1) bashed proposals to expand Medicare to cover everyone, (2) approved health insurance companies’ steep premium increases, during the pandemic, and (3) jumped at the chance to help lobbyists by shielding nursing homes from coronavirus-related lawsuits. In short, she has supported policies that are harmful to the health of black women.

Miraculously, a few days ago, there was speculation that she would receive the nomination to be president-elect Biden’s secretary of Health and Human Services! Ultimately, she did not get the nomination. Those of us who care about the health of black infants and black women may fantasize, dream, hope that it was a healthcare litmus test that doomed Governor Raimondo’s chances.


[1] Infant mortality is the death of an infant before his or her first birthday. The infant mortality rate is the number of infant deaths for every 1,000 live births.

[2] However, the researchers pointed out, “[i]n the general population, on the other hand, black infants with normal birth weights have almost twice the mortality rate of their white counterparts.

In Maryland, Can You Sue Over a Lack of Informed Consent?

In Maryland, a patient may sue a doctor if the doctor fails to obtain the patient’s informed consent. After all, the general rule is that, before a physician renders medical treatment, she must obtain her patient’s informed consent (or that of the patient’s representative).

For the consent to be informed, the physician must disclose the nature of the proposed treatment, the probability of success of the contemplated treatment and its alternatives, and the risk of unfortunate consequences associated with the treatment.

A physician does not have to disclose all of a treatment’s risks; the physician need only disclose the material risks. A “material risk” is “[one] which a physician knows or ought to know would be significant to a reasonable person in the patient’s position in deciding whether or not to have the particular medical treatment or procedure.”

To prevail in an informed consent case, a patient must show more than her doctor’s failure to get informed consent. It’s important to remember this. To succeed in court, you must show that the failure to obtain informed consent was the cause of the harm, injury, or loss that the patient suffered.

Now, I realize that you may now have additional questions about informed consent and what your legal options may be. Well, if you have not yet started a lawsuit and are contemplating bringing one, I encourage you to contact me today. I can answer your legal questions and would love to talk with you. You can reach me at 410-513-9978 or by email at stefan.akorli@fintusinjuryfirm.com.

  • Your Next Step

    Remember, all cases come with statutes of limitations, deadlines to bring the case.  You can get your case underway now. What do you have to lose by setting up a FREE case evaluation?