Obligations of Team Physicians

2004 Virtual Mentor  
Joe Winston was a defensive lineman on a pro football team for about 15 years. During his career-long series of tackles, pursuits, and assorted pile-ups, he sustained a catalog of injuries ranging from a broken arm and fingers to a cracked nose. But the most serious injuries, and those that became a chronic and painful problem for him, were knee injuries. The trouble started in college when Winston tore the meniscus in his left knee. It was surgically repaired, but then, in his rookie season
more » ... h the pros, he damaged the knee again, this time tearing a ligament. Dr. Mailer, one of the team physicians for Winston's NFL pro football club, operated on his knee and told Winston the repair was good. Winston went into rehab and received a knee brace that he wore during every game for the following three seasons. Throughout the remainder of his career, Winston had regular flare-ups with the knee. During each episode, the knee would be examined, drained, and injected with a steroid and pain killer. Winston was also put on systemic steroids and analgesics, which he took over the long term under the team doctor's supervision. He had one more surgery during his years with the team to remove broken bits of cartilage from around and under the knee cap. Winston continued playing with pain and medical treatment until he retired. At that point, he began to have chronic trouble with the knee and eventually became disabled by the injury. He could not run, climb stairs, or stand for long periods of time without pain or discomfort. Winston went back to the team physicians for help. It was then he discovered the full extent of his former injuries and the predictable consequences of having continued to play with knee pain. Two team physicians, Dr. Mailer and Dr. Dole, looked at his knee, x-rayed it, and extracted fluid. At a follow-up visit, they told Winston that his knee was permanently damaged, and, though they could do some surgery, it would probably never be fully functional again. Winston asked to see his medical records and realized that his physicians had known for many years that playing football would make his knee worse or permanently damage it. He also suspected that some of the many treatments he received on his knee were not recorded in his medical chart. Certainly, he had never been told that he should stop playing or even that playing would aggravate the condition. Winston sued the team and team physicians, charging them with concealing important medical information from the patient.
doi:10.1001/virtualmentor.2004.6.7.hlaw1-0407 pmid:23260741 fatcat:xamupb7yjjghfdwyiuaphv2wr4