A Boston pediatrician blogging under the pseudonym Flea has been outed. It happened in court. During cross-examination. On his own medical malpractice trial. And now it is the top story in the Boston Globe.
Flea had written several posts about the upcoming trial, a wrongful death case involving a child. In the process he discussed his private prep sessions with his attorney, explaining how he had been coached to answer questions to be appealing to the jury, how he had been videotaped, and what materials his lawyers told him to read.
After seeing this, I wrote of the extraordinary risks of such disclosures, even under cover of pseudonymity. (See, Medical Malpractice Trial Starting For Med-Blogger.) The issues I raised, in the event plaintiffs’ counsel discovered his blog, ran to the risks of losing his attorney-client privilege for all such communications. If this happened, he could be cross-examined on how he was coached by his defense team to act in front of the jury and the advice they gave him. He also ran he risk of his own insurance carrier trying to disclaim coverage if it thought he was hindering the defense.
Shortly after, he took down three blog postings (Med-Blogger, On Trial For Malpractice, Takes Down Trial Posts), asserting he was superstitious and didn’t want to jinx things that were going well. Then he took down the entire blog, without explanation (Med-Blogger Flea, Previously Live-Blogging His Trial, Takes Down Entire Site).
Dozens of medical and legal bloggers had commented on the live-blogging of the trial, as well as the subsequent, unexplained disappearance of the popular, award-winning doctor-writer.
Well, as revealed in today’s Boston Globe, it appears that plaintiff’s counsel did find out about the blog. And at the end of the day when Flea was on the witness stand in “a Perry Mason moment,” the questions came:
Do you have a medical blog?
Are you Flea?
As per the Boston Globe article, court adjourned for the day, and the case quickly settled.
Why did he do it? While I don’t know Flea, and have no connection to him other than these postings, my best guess was this: He loved writing and this was great material. The subject was, simply put, irresistible. I know that I found his activity fascinating, not only for its raw content, but also for the walking-a-high-wire-without-a-net danger of what he was doing. As seen in the links below, I clearly wasn’t the only one rubbernecking.
How many people took note of this ongoing saga? These links help tell the tale (and there are others), both for the uniqueness of a doctor live-blogging his own malpractice trial and also due to the huge popularity of the blogger:
- Liveblogging a malpractice trial (Overlawyered);
- Getting Inside a Medical Malpractice Case (Law.com Blog Network – Carolyn Elefant)
- MD Blogs Own Med-Mal Trial (Law.com Blog Network – Robert Ambrogi)
- Jury Notes From Elsewhere, May 11: Trial through the defendant’s eyes (Deliberations)
- Through the Eyes of a Flea (Simple Justice)
- Flea’s trial blogging catches a lawyer’s attention (Kevin, M.D.)
- Blogging Your Own Med Mal Trial (TortsProf)
- Medical Malpractice Defense Lawyers’ Nightmare Client (Hans Poppe, with archived Flea posts:
- Flea Takes A Screen Test (April 24th)
- What do malpractice juries care about (April 26th)
- Flea on Trial-Day One, Jury Selection (May 9th)
- The Flea Circus (symtym)
- On the blogs: malpractice trial prep (Boston Globe Blog, White Coat Notes)
- Black Wednesday: A dark day for the medical blogosphere (Kevin, M.D.)
- The Flea Bite (or lessons learned from angry fans) (Simple Justice)
- Medical Bloggers: Held to a Privacy Double Standard? (Dr. Wes)
- FEAR NOT: Picking Up The Gauntlet In The Medical Blogosphere (Dr. J’s House Calls)
- Medical Blogging and the Tragedy of the Commons (Stranger Than You Can Imagine)
- Dr. Flea Disappears (Doctor Anonymous)
- One Injustice After Another (Moof)
- The Dearth of Physician Bloggers (intueri: to contemplate)
- Flea Gone (Scalpel)
- The Death of a Flea (Tales from the Emergency Room)
- Where Have All The Medical Bloggers Gone? (From Medskool)
- Farewell and Goodluck (Tales from Health Records)
- What happened to Flea? (Scanman)
- In Memorandum (Highlight Health)
- 2 Medical Blogs Shut Down (Revolution Health)
- Dark Days in the Medical Blogosphere (MSSP Nexus Blog)
- The “Butterflying” of the Medical Blogosphere (Mexico Medical Student)
- I am a blogger. I am a doctor (Musings of a Distractible Mind)
- What is Happening to Medical Blogs (Tales from the Womb)
- The Medical Blogosphere (It’s all about the walls)
Finally, this case was a tragedy for two parents, and a nightmare for a doctor. If the parents had lost the trial, it would have added yet another layer of extraordinary emotional trauma. If Flea lost, it would no doubt have been emotionally difficult for him. A settlement allows each to move on with their lives without the additional fallout of a jury’s verdict. The parents might feel they had their day in court and that the settlement was based on the merits, while Flea might feel it was based on his own carelessness with his writing and the concerns a jury might not like the way his legal team was trying to manipulate the jury. Neither won and neither lost. And sometimes that is all for the best.
2nd Addendum: More on Doctor “Flea” Being Outed On The Witness Stand