How to Feed a Lawyer (and Other Irreverent Observations from the Legal Underground)

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Matt Homann

Evan, your hypo should have read, "If your doctor happens to amputate your left arm, when it was the right arm that had to go: Well, he is only human. He is not a god. He makes mistakes at times. Ask yourself: 'Are you prepared to cast the first stone?'" Maybe, maybe not. Am I lefthanded?


I'd be very interested to hear of a single instance where a doctor amputated the wrong leg, and then insisted on taking the case to trial on the question of liability. It's not the lawyers who create recovery in such cases.

It's also worth noting the recent lawsuit against the doctor who was accused of "branding" a patient because he attempted to avoid the problem described above by the standard procedure of marking a body part with his initials.

Anyway, while the reasoning of the letter leaves much to be desired, good doctors do get sued. Even the director of the VA hospital Evan previously mentioned as a shining example of what doctors should do to prevent malpractice litigation complains that he has to deal with several meritless malpractice suits a year.


Let's get the prerequisites out of the way. Of course there are bad doctors who deserved to get sued. There are also lawyers who file cases hoping for a quick settlement and payout.

But good doctors do get sued. That's because people regularly have difficulty differentiating between malpractice and a bad outcome. Even you have to admit that Madison County is full of people "entitled" to something. "I didn't get the results I want, so I must have something coming to me."

And I wouldn't be so quick to assume that the Sound Off is coming from a doctor's wife. It could just be someone in fear of losing more doctors from this area.

Bryan Gates

Of course good doctors can get sued, just like good lawyers, good mechanics, and good engineers. Some of those who are confronted with their mistakes will admit it and make things right. Others will never admit that they are wrong.
It's ridiculous to demagogue the other side. If the mechanic forgets to put the oil plug back in my car after changing the oil, and that ruins my engine, he should pay for a new one. It may have been an honest mistake and he is only human. However we are not punishing the mechanic, just requiring the mechanic to fix the damage he caused.
There are cases where doctors make honest mistakes. There are cases where doctors did everything they could and the patient still died. The court system has to sort them out. That is what it is there for.


Ben: Thanks for your comment. As you might know, it takes much more to file a med mal lawsuit than merely a feeling that one is "entitled to something." Please refer to my post from a few days ago titled "Trial Lawyer Draws Gun, Then Tells a Story," which deals with the hopelessly exaggered issue of "frivolous lawsuits." In addition, in Illinois a lawsuit against a doctor cannot go forward unless another doctor swears under oath that in his opinion, malpractice has occurred.

I agree with you that it is a problem when doctors leave an area such as ours (although they're leaving mostly because they think they can make more money somewhere else, a point no one criticizes them for while criticizing the "greed" of lawyers)--but even this "problem" is being exaggerated, as I'll demonstrate in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, I really don't know who made the call to Sound Off; you are right that it may simply have been a concerned citizen without any connection to a doctor other than a desire to be treated when he or she is sick--and treated nearby, so that he or she doesn't have to drive an extra five miles to North County in St. Louis.


Matt, Ted and Bryan: Thanks for your comments too. I didn't mean to single out Ben, although I did want to address a few of his points.


I have followed with interest the debate reported upon by Evan. And I have to say, despite being a civil defense litigator who sees frivolous claims all the time, that only a doctor (or someone close to a doctor) would actually say this with a straight face when it comes to liability for being sued: "Let him [sic] that is without sin cast the first stone."

ONLY a doctor would say that. In no other profession that I'm aware of do people of high responsibility believe that they have some sort of "fundamental right" to do their jobs involving a risk of serious harm to innocent people, without facing the possibility of being held accountable for their performance in a court of law. I honestly believe that if we were to allow doctors to make their own decisions about their level of responsibility, they would simply do away with malpractice liability altogether. Their theory, I suppose, would be, "We do such great work and it is so important, and we are such good and selfless human beings for doing it, that people really shouldn't sue us for anything, at all, ever, for any reason."


UCL: Great comment! And from a defense lawyer!

In the future, however, we're going to have to find something about which to disagree and fight about, because that makes a blawg more dramatic. Have any topics in mind?

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