Patients who are unhappy with the outcome of their medical treatment often feel angry, frustrated, and betrayed by their doctor. They may blame the doctor for creating unrealistic expectations about the treatment, or feel that the doctor misled them into believing a procedure was safer that it really was. They may suspect their doctor was guilty of gross error or even incompetence.

Whatever the underlying cause, it is understandable that patients experience strong emotional reactions when they sense they have been the victim of medical failure. Many seek the remedy of pursuing a medical malpractice claim. And while controversy rages nationwide over the proliferation of costly medical malpractice lawsuits and escalating jury awards, a recent news story presented a chilling case of what can happen if a disgruntled patient takes justice into his own hands.

In January, a 75-year-old retired barber who was upset over lingering health problems after prostate surgery allegedly shot to death a prominent California urologist in his office. Although details of the case are still sketchy, prosecutors have said the doctor killed was not the one who performed the prostate surgery — the alleged shooter was seeing the urologist for the first time on the day of the shooting. The doctor who performed the surgery has not been identified. A neighbor reported the suspect had complained to him that he was in worse shape after the surgery than before it. He said the doctor had rushed into surgery before exploring other treatments.

Of course, this is an extreme case, and it is not known whether the surgeon did anything that failed to meet professional standards of care. But it is important for every patient to know that there are legal means of redress when a patient believes that medical malpractice has taken place.