Dennis BeaverSeptember 11, 2020 • By Dennis Beaver

My paralegal, Anne, buzzed me. “You have a couple on the phone who have Covid-19. They are very upset with their family doctor and want to talk with you about a possible lawsuit for malpractice.”

Now, this sounded interesting.

Just diagnosed with COVID-19 — doctor yelled at them

“Mr. Beaver, our family was just diagnosed with COVID-19, and fortunately no one is sick enough to go to the hospital, but we feel very disrespected by how our family doctor reacted.”

I wondered how long have they gone to this doctor, and why they feel so “disrespected.”

“We have been his patients for several years and never had a problem until now. But when he called us and confirmed that we all had COVID-19, it is what he said that hurt our feelings terribly. He was so angry! We recorded it. (They played the recording.)

“What’s wrong with you all? I told you months ago that you were dangerously obese and that you were not taking your blood pressure medication as prescribed. Don’t you watch TV? Almost all of the faces of the people who died from COVID-19 who you see on the evening news are horribly obese — and you are too, all of you, mom, dad and your four young kids! Don’t you get it! You are sentencing yourselves to death because of being morbidly obese!”

“Mr. Beaver, we aren’t that much overweight and our kids are otherwise healthy, if a bit big.”

Was the doctor correct? Were they all obese? Dr. Skype would answer that question, and so I asked–and the family agreed–to do a Skype video chat. As soon as their webcam was active, it was clear to me that I was looking at an entire family of morbidly obese people in complete denial of their own health status.

What immediately came to mind was what their doctor had told them about the faces of people who died from COVID-19. Almost all were obese.

The message of obesity, COVID-19 and risk of death is not getting Through

I asked if they would call the doctor’s office and authorize him to discuss this with me, and they agreed.  Within minutes I was speaking with a physician I can only described as caring and frustrated who I will call “Dr. Jim.”

“Dennis, obviously the national message is not getting through about obesity and COVID-19. The CDC has stated that obesity was as great a risk factor or even greater as having a suppressed immune system or chronic lung or kidney disease. They also said risk starts with a BMI of 30 and 40% of Americans have a BMI well over 30. At these numbers, there is a high risk of death, more so than related risk factors such as diabetes or hypertension.

“People with severe obesity are about twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as those who are not obese, regardless of race or ethnicity. The risk rises with the degree of obesity. The bigger a person, the higher their risk of a COVID-19 death.

“But this is not a new discovery, as during the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, and flu pandemics in the 1950’s and 1960’s, we found that obese people were at a higher risk of dying.

“There are many reasons why obesity is such a risk factor, and one explanation is that their levels of the hormone leptin are always high, which reduces the immune response to a Covid-19 infection. Leptin is produced by fat cells, and the more fat a person has, the more leptin circulates in their body.

Did he yell at his patients?

“Doc, your patients feel ‘disrespected’ because they claim you yelled at them for not doing a thing about their weight. So, what happened?”

“They are correct. I did yell at them out of total frustration! Months ago when it was clear we were facing a pandemic, I contacted all my obese patients and begged them to lose weight! I explained the risks. No one can justify weighting 350 pounds! We are killing ourselves in this country! Yes, I do get frustrated when these same people return to the office and have done nothing to address their weight issues. And I am not apologizing. I just hope that I finally got their attention.”

Does a poor bedside manner justify a malpractice lawsuit?

Courts have held that a poor bedside manner is not medical malpractice. If a health care provider’s actions do not result in real injury, it cannot be considered medical malpractice.

I explained that to my readers, telling them, “Dr. Jim was trying to save your lives. Instead of being angry, realize that he cares enough to hopefully make you think. He deserves your appreciation, not a lawsuit.”


Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.