Archive for the ‘caps on damages’ Category

Week in Review: (June 13 – June 17, 2001) Eye Opener Health, Law and Medicine Blog

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Eye  Opener’s Week in Review

 

Jason Penn

From the Editor:  Today marks the end of week two as “guest” editor for the Eye Opener. I can tell you that the title “editor” is a misnomer. When it comes to the Eye Opener and its panel of bloggers, very little (if any) editing takes place. Consistently, our blawgers provide you with timely and topical posts. This week was no different. Let’s take a retrospective look at what the “Eye Opener” offered this week (and, of course, a sneak peek at the week ahead.)

– Jason Penn, Guest Editor

 

(Many thanks to Jason and all those back at the firm, who helped get the word out on some great topics this past week while I’ve been wrapping-up week #2 of the trial from hell…….Brian Nash)

July 1 – New Residents, New Rules……Again!

By: Theresa Neumann

While the loss of sleep is rarely a topic on Gray’s Anatomy (or any made-for-television medical drama), it is a genuine quandary for non-actor, medical residents. This past Monday, Theresa Neumann explored the ACGME’s limitations on the hours worked by medical residents in the United States. As Theresa explained, the overall maximum hours per week will not change; it remains at 80 hours.  One big change is the limit on the maximum continuous duty period for first year residents; this will be decreased from 24 to 16 hours.  It will remain 24 hours for residents after their first year, but recommendations include “strategic napping.” Curious about the other changes?  Read more

Newest Word on Crib Safety: Ban the Bumpers?

By: Sarah Keogh

Sleep isn’t only important for medical residents; it is also important for the smallest members of our families. As Sara Keogh explained on Tuesday, Maryland is considering regulations to ban the sale of crib bumpers. For many years, more and more emphasis has been placed on infants sleeping in safe cribs without any additional “stuff” in them. This has included the elimination of lots of former nursery staples. Baby blankets, stuffed animals, pillows and other loose items have been banned from the crib by safety experts for years. As requirements for cribs have required slats that are closer together, the utility of using a bumper to help a child from getting stuck between crib slats has been eliminated. More recently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has developed even newer crib safety standards, including eliminating the use of drop-sides, and warned against the use of sleep positioners. Yet, despite the advice to put babies to sleep only on their backs in cribs empty of everything except a well fitting mattress and fitted sheet, many parents and caregivers persist in using other items in cribs. Now, with an increasing number of deaths associated with crib bumpers, Maryland is considering a stronger stance. Read more

Legal Boot Camp Class Four. Sean and Kristy’s Story: How a Jury Award is Conformed to the Cap

By: John Stefanuca

On Wednesday blogger Jon Stefanuca broke out his calculator:  bootcamp style.  In the state of Maryland, there is a cap on the damages that can be awarded.  But what happens when a jury returns a verdict in excess of the statutory amount?  Mathematics and law intersect.

To see the results, and a detailed explanation of how it all works, you can read more ….

 

Confusion with Advanced Directives: Palliative Care, End-of-Life and Hospice Care

By: Theresa Neumann

With the death of the always controversial Jack Kevorkian, we revisited a post by Theresa Neumann.  Breathing a little life into the post (pun intended), Theresa provides an excellent primer for readers that are facing end of life situations.  The differences are nuanced and can be difficult to understand at a most difficult time. Are you sure you know the difference between palliative, end-of-life and hospice care?  Read more

Acquired Brain Injuries: Subdural Hematomas

By: Theresa Neumann

When Humpty Dumpty fell, they were able to put him back together again.  Because our lives are nothing like a children’s nursery rhyme, when we fall, we get hurt.  A head injury is particularly serious. Have you ever bumped your head and developed a “goose-egg?” It’s truly amazing how fast that big bruise under the skin grows. That bruise, or hematoma, is from a broken blood vessel, usually a vein. The pressure from the swelling helps with clotting, along with the blood’s own clotting factors. This types of hematoma typically takes a week or more to go away. If it’s on the forehead, it’s often followed by one or two “black eyes.”  That’s because the blood tends to spread along  tissue planes, and gravity notoriously pulls everything downward causing it to pool in the eye sockets, where the blood cells degrade and their components are reabsorbed by the body. Unlike a fairy tale, however, this goose-egg can be serious.  Read more

Sneak Peak of the Week Ahead:

As I told you at the beginning, the Eye Opener’s writers continue in their efforts to provide you with timely and topical blogs for your reading pleasure. As evidenced by the above, this past week was no exception. The Eye Opener and its writers are excited about the week ahead too!  Here’s a sneak peak of what’s in store for you:

  • Service dogs for children:  more than just a pet
  • Changes in Sunscreen:  will regulation prevent cancer?
  • HIV Patients:  Increased risk for developing cancer
  • Legal Boot Camp is back in session and Part III of our Cerebral Palsy tutorial.

Wishing You and Yours a Great Week Ahead!

Images courtesy of:

www.theepochtiems.com

www.sleepzine.com

www.nailsmag.com

www.aginglongevity

 

 


Legal Boot Camp Class Four. Sean and Kristy’s Story: How a Jury Award is Conformed to the Cap.

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

From the Editor. Please see our disclaimer at the end of this blog for a better understanding of the limitations of this series and our mission statement.

Last week, we published a blog about Sean and Kristy. You will recall that Sean died from excessive bleeding when the nurse overdosed him with anticoagulation medication after a major surgery. You will also recall that after careful consideration Kristy decided to file a medical malpractice claim against the nurse and her employer, the hospital.

Now, let’s skip forward.  Kristy’s Complaint stated two causes of action: survival and wrongful death. Under the survival claim, Kristy was the only named Plaintiff because she was named Personal Representative of Sean’s Estate. Only a personal representative can bring a survival action on behalf of a decedent. Kristy and Kira (Sean’ daughter) were both named Plaintiffs under the wrongful death count. Generally speaking, only a parent, spouse, or child (with some exceptions) can bring claims for wrongful death.

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury returned a verdict of 2.5 million with 1 million awarded in the survival action and 1.5 million awarded in the wrongful death action. Furthermore, in the wrongful death action, the jury awarded Kristy 1 million dollars and Kira 500,000 dollars.  All of these damages were for pain and suffering.  You will recall that Maryland has a cap on non-economic damages. The cap imposes a limitation of about 812,000 dollars when the jury’s award is for wrongful death and survival (this is regardless of the number of claims or claimants).

How will the Court reduce the verdict so that it conforms to the statutory cap? The answer is mandated by statute: the Court must make proportionate reductions in order to reduce the jury award to the statutory cap.  Here is how it works:  The total recovery in this case is 2.5 million (1 million under the survival action, 1.5 million under the wrongful death action). 1.5 million represents 60% of the total recovery of 2.5 million.  1 million represents 40% of the total recovery.

Now, 40% of the 812,000 cap is 320,800 dollars. 60% of the 812,000 cap is 487,200 dollars. Therefore, the monetary award under the survival action will be reduced by the Court to 324,800 dollars. The overall award under the wrongful death action will be reduced by the Court proportionately to 487,200 dollars.

Furthermore, proportionate reductions are necessary to conform the wrongful death award to the cap.  An overall amount of 1.5 million was awarded in the wrongful death action.  From that award, the jury gave Kira 500,000 dollars and Kristy 1 million dollars.  One million represents about 67% of the total recovery in the wrongful death action. Kira’s award of 500,000 dollars represent 33.3%. Applying these percentages to the capped wrongful death recovery of 487,200 dollars, Kira’s award will be reduced from 500,000 dollars to 160,776 (33% of 487,200) dollars. Kristy’s award of 1 million dollars will be reduced to 326,424 dollars (67% of 487,200). This is all Maryland law will permit them to recover. Justice or injustice, what do you think?

Related Posts:

Malpractice Wrongful Death Lawsuit by Couple Falsely Accused of Abusing Their Child Filed Against Children’s Hospital

Maryland’s Cap and a Message from the former MAJ President re the Goings-On in Annapolis

Legal Boot Camp (First Class): The Story of Pam – Maryland’s Law on Earning Capacity

“Wrongful Death and Survival Actions”

Disclaimer: As is the case with all of our blogs and the writings posted on our website, we are not offering legal advice to our readers. This information in our series,Legal Boot Camp, is being presented in the hope that we can provide some education about the law in Maryland and the District of Columbia. The law in the field of personal injury (and particularly in our sub-specialty of medical malpractice) can be complex and confusing at times. Even in these two jurisdictions where we are licensed to practice, the laws and their interpretation by the courts can vary significantly. It is simply our hope that by presenting this series – Legal Boot Camp - that we can provide a better understanding of some legal principles that can come into play when bringing a civil claim or lawsuit for damages as a result of the wrongdoing of others.

For those who do not live in either Maryland or the Washington, D.C., we hope that we can at least raise some issues for you to consider when you speak with an attorney licensed to practice in the state in which you live. Many times the basic concepts of law are similar. We hope that by raising some of these issues applicable to Maryland and the District of Columbia, you will at least have a basic understanding of some terms and principles that may apply to your situation. Don’t be afraid to raise these issues with your attorney. Education – be it in law or medicine – is our main goal.
Finally, please see our introductory blog for Legal Boot Camp for a better understanding of our mission in presenting this series.

 

How Much is Your Marriage Worth?

Friday, June 10th, 2011

When you’re injured as a result of someone else’s negligence, it’s easy to see why you have a legal claim. You are entitled to recover for the injuries that you suffered, including economic damages (lost wages, medical bills, etc.) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering). However, if you’re married, there is another category of damages that you may be able to recover – damage to your marriage. It’s called Loss of Consortium and is an important element of damages in the right circumstances. It is a legal recognition that the marital relationship itself – separate and apart from the injury to the individual – is a protected interest that is deserving of compensation if it has been harmed by the negligence of another person.

Loss of consortium has an interesting history. Under Common Law (which roughly translates to “the olden days” in this circumstance) a woman had no right to sue for loss of consortium. It was only the man who had the right. That was because the woman was essentially seen as the man’s property. If she was injured and unable to provide her usual domestic or bedroom duties as a result of someone else’s negligence, the man could recover for the loss of such services. He had basically lost some of the value of his property so he was entitled to compensation. Eventually, the courts (most courts, at least) recognized the unfairness of such a one-sided system and ruled that women could also make such a claim if their husband suffered an injury. However, there are still some states (Virginia, for example) that do not recognize loss of consortium at all, no matter who tries to bring it.

Back to the present day. A loss of consortium claim arises when one spouse suffers a serious injury that impairs the marital relationship. An easy example is if a husband suffers a traumatic brain injury as a result of a doctor’s negligence. In that circumstance, the man would be able to file a claim for his own damages, of course, but he and his wife could also allege loss of consortium because the brain injury impacts the marriage. The couple will now find it more difficult to do the things they use to do together as man and wife – going out together, caring for their children, taking vacations, intimacy, and the day-to-day marital difficulties that arise because the husband now has a brain injury. In Maryland, a jury can award monetary damages for the couples’ loss of companionship, affection, assistance and yes, sexual relations. It is notoriously difficult to put a dollar figure on such injuries, but the law recognizes the right of a husband and wife to recover financially if their marriage has been damaged. How much money to award for such injury is for the jury to decide. Like other damages, it is always the plaintiffs’ burden to prove that the marriage has been injured, which is usually done through the testimony of the husband and wife.

Speaking of intimacy, some pundits say that loss of consortium is just a code-word for damage to the couples’ sex life. This is not entirely true as the marital relationship entails far more than just sex, but these pundits have a point. A loss of consortium claim usually does include an allegation that the couples’ sex life has been impacted. If you are bringing a lawsuit, you have to understand that when you allege loss of consortium, you are opening up the door on the most intimate parts of your life. Defense attorneys will often ask highly personal questions – how often did you have sex before the injury, how often do you have sex now, how exactly does the injury make sex more difficult, have either of you ever strayed from the marriage, etc. Some couples are understandably reluctant to discuss such things. Thankfully, most defense attorneys are just as uncomfortable asking these questions as the plaintiffs are answering them, so the questions tend to be over with relatively quickly. Be aware, though, that if you do file a loss of consortium claim, your sex life may become an issue in open court.

In the District of Columbia, a loss of consortium claim is for similar damages, but with a slight difference. While in Maryland the claim belongs to both the husband and the wife and is brought by them jointly, in the District of Columbia the claim belongs solely to the non-injured spouse. Any money awarded by the jury for loss of consortium goes to the non-injured spouse rather than to the couple jointly.

Lastly, Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages applies to claims for loss of consortium. There is no separate cap for this claim. In other words, there is a single cap that applies to all allegations of injuries, whether it’s an injury to the individual or an injury to the marriage.  The Maryland Legislature does not allow a couple to receive more money for injury to the marriage above and beyond the cap, even if a jury decides that that money should be given. Just another example of how Maryland’s cap punishes plaintiffs.

Have you ever suffered an injury that impacted your marriage? Did you file a loss of consortium claim? What was the result?

Related Nash and Associates Links

Maryland’s alleged healthcare “crisis”

Insurance and Traumatic Brain Injury

Acquired Brain Injuries

 

 

The death of a baby – the economic realities

Monday, June 6th, 2011

I recently wrote a blog about the grief that parents suffer when they lose an unborn child. At the risk of sounding crass, I want to now discuss the economics of lawsuits involving the death of an unborn child. For those contemplating taking legal action for the loss of their child, I hope this provides some useful information for you to consider.

Maryland courts have carved out specific rules for when an unborn child is considered a person capable of recovering damages in the event of death. The primary rule is that if a baby is actually born alive, no matter at what gestational age, that baby is considered a person with legal rights. So, if a 20-week baby is born alive and then dies one minute later, that baby is considered a “person,” and a lawsuit can be filed on behalf of the estate for that baby’s pain and suffering, otherwise known as a Survival Action.

(This leads to an interesting question – does a fetus feel pain? See Related Links below). The parents of the unborn child can also file what is known as a Wrongful Death action for their own economic and non-economic damages resulting from the death of their baby, primarily their grief and emotional loss over the death of their child. Survival actions and Wrongful Death actions are two separate claims, although they are usually pursued in the same lawsuit.

When a baby dies before birth, however, another question has to be asked: was the baby viable or not? Viability means that a baby is able to live outside the womb, even though he or she may require serious medical intervention. The current thinking is that babies are viable at around 22 weeks. The courts have made the rule that if an unborn child dies before the age of viability, that baby is not yet a “person” and has no legal rights. There can be no Survival Action and there can be no Wrongful Death action. If, however, the baby has reached the age of viability, then the baby is considered “a person” with legal rights, even if the baby was never born alive. Confusing? Yes it is.

The Maryland Courts were following the ruling in Roe v. Wade that a mother had a constitutional right to abort a non-viable baby. Therefore, a non-viable baby was not legally considered a person. If the baby was not a person, then no lawsuit could be filed on behalf of the estate of that baby, nor could the parents file a wrongful death action. So in order for a Survival Action or a Wrongful Death action to lie for an unborn baby, that baby has to have reached at least 22 weeks of gestation.

To make things even more confusing, the Maryland courts have carved out an exception to the above rules. Let’s consider the example of a non-viable baby (i.e., less than 22 weeks gestation) who dies before birth as a result of someone else’s negligence that injures the mother.

A common situation occurs when the mother (let’s say she’s 8 weeks pregnant) is injured in a car accident and suffers a miscarriage as a result. Looking at the above rules, one would think that no claim is allowed. However, the courts have said not so fast. In this circumstance, while the mother cannot recover for the grief of losing her child (because the child is non-viable and, therefore, not legally a person), she can recover for similar damages, including:

  • The depression, anguish, and grief caused by the termination of the pregnancy;
  • The manner in which the pregnancy was terminated;
  • Having to carry a baby which was killed by someone else’s tortious conduct; and
  • Having to witness the stillborn child or the fetal tissue that was to be her child.

I realize this itemization of damages sounds awfully close to the damages permitted in a Wrongful Death action – the very damages that are not allowed in the case of a non-viable baby. It is confusing, to say the least. The courts are trying to find a way to compensate a woman who is injured and loses her non-viable baby as a result of someone else’s negligence, while remaining true to prior precedent in this state that there is no Wrongful Death action allowed in the case of a non-viable baby.

Lastly, keep in mind that Maryland’s cap on non-economic damages applies to cases involving the death of an unborn baby. Economic damages (medical bills, lost wages) are usually very small in such cases. There are no lost wages because we’re talking about a baby, and the medical bills are usually small.

The value of these cases is in the emotional pain and suffering of the parents, and the physical pain and suffering of the baby (assuming a viable baby). Under Maryland law, the maximum allowable recovery for such a claim is $868,750 in a medical negligence action (assuming Mom and Dad both file a wrongful death action).

Under the hypothetical of the mother seeking recovery for the loss of a non-viable baby, the maximum allowable recovery is $695,000 if the allegation is medical negligence, and $755,000 if the allegation is non-medical negligence. (The Maryland Legislature has for some strange reason imposed different caps depending on whether the negligence is medical or non-medical, e.g., a car accident).

As for the question of whether an unborn child feels pain, please click on the link below for a blog by Brian Nash on this very issue.

Related Nash and Associates Links

Does a fetus feel pain

Hysteria over malpractice “crisis”

 

 

 

Why early settlement is a win-win for all

Friday, May 20th, 2011

There is an old adage in the law that cases settle on the courthouse steps. There is a reason for that. When the parties are actually walking into court to try their case, they seem to suddenly recognize that there are significant risks to going to trial, and that there is serious money at stake. When you go to trial, only one side can win. The other side goes home a loser. Faced with such a stark outcome, both sides tend to become more reasonable in their assessment of their case and more willing to talk settlement. After all, despite all the years of experience that trial attorneys amass, no one can ever predict what a jury is going to do in any specific case. As one mediator I know likes to tell the litigants, going to court is like going to Vegas:  you roll the dice and you take your chances. So often times, the closer a case gets to the trial date the more motivated the two sides are to talk settlement. But is there a better way?

A couple of recent cases made me start to think about settlements and how they come about. (If you missed it, Brian Nash wrote an excellent piece on the frustrations of mediation and trying to settle cases). I’ve recently handled two cases that illustrate how settlements work and how two cases can go down dramatically different routes to ultimately get to the same place. Both of these cases are subject to confidentiality agreements so I can’t divulge the names of the parties or the settlement amounts, but they were both seven-figure cases with significant injury.

In the first case, the patient alleged that her doctor failed to timely diagnose stomach cancer over a period of several years. By the time the patient was properly evaluated by another physician, the cancer had progressed to the point that there was virtually no chance of a cure, and the young woman was likely going to die in the next few years. In the second case, the patient alleged that he suffered serious neurological complications (motor and nerve dysfunction in his arms and legs) as a result of post-operative complications that were not treated quickly enough. In both cases, a lawsuit was filed in court.  At that point, the two cases diverged.

Case Example #1 – Getting it done early

In the cancer case, before any depositions had taken place, the defense attorney called and asked if we might be able to talk about resolving the case. That’s always a great call to get as a plaintiff’s lawyer because it means there is a good chance that you will be able to get a nice result for your client, which is always the ultimate goal. Within a matter of weeks, we had reached an agreeable number and the case was over.

Case Example #2 – Grinding it out to the courthouse steps

In the second case, there was no early talk of resolution. The case proceeded through the normal course of litigation, which in the District of Columbia usually means about eighteen months of discovery, depositions, expert meetings, etc. Twenty-five experts were hired to review records and testify. Twenty-seven depositions ended up being taken. The case got all the way up to the Thursday before trial was scheduled to start on the following Monday morning. At that point, the parties finally reached agreement on a number and the case was settled.

Why the difference in approach?

So we have two cases, both with significant injury and both with questionable care. One case settled right away, and one dragged on for almost two years before settling. Is there a simple reason why? Not that I’ve been able to figure out. After years of doing this, I, like every other attorney, get a gut feeling as to what cases are worth, which ones will likely settle, which ones will go to trial. But it’s still a gut feeling; there’s no science involved.

It’s usually a combination of factors – the quality of the medical care, the severity of the injury, the likeability of the plaintiff and the defendant (more important than most people realize), the specific jurisdiction you’re in, etc. On top of these factors you have a myriad of psychological reactions that pop-up in lawsuits and there is no predicting those. Sometimes people get entrenched in fighting for no other reason than to fight. Some people get a number in their head for what a case is worth and don’t want to budge. So even though I can’t sit here and explain why certain cases settle early and some settle late, I do want to talk about the value of early settlements to all sides.

Common Sense and good economics say “get it done early”

It is easy to see why early resolution of cases benefits everyone, and it comes down to the costs of litigation. In today’s world, it can easily cost $75,000 to $100,000 (if not more in many instances) just in expenses to take a case to trial; it can easily be much higher in complex cases. (I know of one attorney who spent $300,000 on a case that he took to trial; he lost the case). These expenses consist primarily of expert fees paid to doctors to review records and testify. Expert doctors routinely charge at least $400 per hour and oftentimes more for their time. For trial testimony, doctors usually charge around $5,000 per day (some substantially more). If it runs into two days, that’s $10,000 just for one witness. It’s not unusual to spend tens of thousands of dollars for expert fees alone.

On top of that there is the cost of court reporters for each deposition, copying charges, obtaining medical records, long-distance calls, travel expenses, etc. Going through litigation is an expensive undertaking, and the longer the case goes on the more expensive it is. On the plaintiff side, all of those expenses are usually advanced by the attorney (in jurisdictions where this is permitted), but they all get paid back by the client at the end of the case (assuming the plaintiff wins; if there is no recovery, the plaintiff’s attorney “eats” those costs). So every dollar spent on litigation comes straight out of the client’s portion of the recovery.

On the defense side, insurers and self-insured institutions (like hospitals) have those same expenses, but on top of that, they also have to pay legal fees to their attorneys. Defense attorneys charge by the hour for everything they do on a file from reviewing records to meeting with clients to talking to experts to taking depositions. The complexity of medical negligence cases means long hours of work on each file, generating substantial legal fees. Those fees get paid to the defense lawyer whether the case is won, lost or settled at the last minute. The longer the litigation lasts, the higher the legal fees.

Of course it always costs money to investigate a case. There is no avoiding that.  Records need to be obtained and reviewed. Experts need to be retained for an initial opinion. But instead of spending $75,000 or $100,000 (or more) on a case, it may cost only several thousand dollars to work-up a case to get it ready to file – that is, to be in a position where early resolution can be discussed with the defendant. If a case can be settled early on, all of those thousands of dollars that would have gone to litigation costs go straight to the client. That is a huge benefit to the client.

The defendant benefits too. No hospital or insurance company wants to spend money needlessly. Early resolution means that the defendant doesn’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in expenses and tens of thousands more in legal fees. The only way it makes sense to spend that money is if, at the end of the day, the “defendant” (read insurer/hospital) believes it can either win the case or settle it for less down the road. But here’s the thing – a case can usually settle early on for less than the case would be worth had the case gotten closer to trial. This isn’t always true, of course, but as a general rule, a good case does not become less valuable over time.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys don’t undersell their cases to get an early settlement, but in practical terms, attorneys and clients are usually willing to consider some discount because they know that an early settlement is to their mutual benefit.The plaintiff gets a guaranteed financial payment now rather than waiting eighteen months for a trial and then a possible appeal that may drag the case out another two years. In that circumstance, the plaintiff is usually willing to take a little less money now because it is certain. It’s the age-old question: would you rather have X amount of money now, or wait eighteen months for the chance of getting more? For most plaintiffs, it’s an easy answer. Also the defense can pay less on a case than it would have ended up paying anyway and save thousands in expenses and legal fees by doing so. It’s a win-win for all parties.

Just do the math!

The big secret with early settlements (and which can sometimes be difficult to explain to a client) is that even though an early settlement might be for less than what a jury might award, the client can actually put more money in his or her pocket with a lower settlement amount. Again, we’re back to the issue of litigation costs. If a firm spends $10,000 to investigate a case and get it ready to file rather than $100,000 to take a case to trial, that is an extra $90,000 that goes straight to the client. Also, some law firms will have a contingent fee agreement in which the fee is higher (usually from 1/3 to 40%) when the case goes to trial, which serves to compensate for the additional time,  risk and expense of going to trial. When you consider the higher legal fees and the increased costs of litigation that have to be paid back, it can actually take a substantially larger jury verdict to put the same amount of money in the client’s pocket as he or she would get with a smaller early resolution.

Some cases may just need to be tried

I don’t mean to imply that every case that gets filed should be settled early. Far from it. Some lawyers undoubtedly file cases that are simply without merit and should be defended vigorously. Other cases – while they may be defensible – fall into a middle category where the care may not be the best but the plaintiff has problems with his/her case too. Some cases can be difficult to evaluate without further investigation and discovery to gauge the strength of the case. In those cases, it is entirely appropriate to proceed with litigation – even on a somewhat limited scale through discovery. No doubt there are instances where insurance companies do need to protect the interest of their doctors, and sometimes that means vigorously defending a case all the way through trial.

Some cases, however, – the cases where the medical care is truly egregious and the damages are clear – need to be looked at early on to see if the two sides can be reasonable and find some middle ground. If a case is going to ultimately settle (and believe me, experienced attorneys and claims adjusters can usually identify those cases early on), it makes sense to talk sooner rather than later. It requires compromise on everyone’s part, but the value to both sides is so great that it makes sense to talk early and get it done.

What has been your experience?

I’d be curious to know the experience of our readers. Has anyone been involved in a lawsuit that settled? Did it resolve early on or did it stretch out for years? Do you think the time involved had any impact on the amount of the settlement? Any tips or tricks you might suggest? Let’s hear from you – maybe we can all learn how to get these cases resolved earlier and stop wasting time, resources and money.

You may also want to read these related posts:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

A View from the Shady Side – The Defense Perspective

Every bad outcome does NOT a malpractice case make! Some practical advice

 

Tort Reform or Just Plain Medical Care Reform: the debate continues as thousands are injured annually in US hospitals

Monday, October 25th, 2010

HEADLINES AND EXCERPTS

Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2010, diagnostic errors kill 40,000 to 80,000 patients annually based on autopsy studies over past 4 decades.

American Medical News, August 23, 2010, an estimated 1.5 million medical errors cost the US economy $19.5 billion in 2008.  

CNBC.com, October 19, 2010, the Colorado Physician Insurance Company found between 2002 and 2008, 25 surgeries were performed on the wrong patient, and another 107 surgeries were performed on the wrong body part. One-fourth, approximately 6 patients suffered significant injury. There was 1 death.

News from the National Academies, October 21, 2006, medication errors injure 1.5 million people annually. 400,000 injuries occur in hospitals; 800,000 occur in longterm care; and 530,000 occur in Medicare outpatient clinics. Estimates were conservative.  Treatment of hospital injuries cost more then $43.5 billion annually. Lost wages, productivity, or additional healthcare costs were not included.

HealthGrades, April 2008, published 3 years of Medicare data from 2004-2006 in their 5th Annual Patient Safety in Hospitals Study. They found 1.12 million patient safety incidents occurred representing a 3% incident rate; and 270,491 in hospital deaths were directly attributable to an incident. The incident rate was unchanged from the 4 previous annual reports.  The incidents accounted for $8.8 billion in excess cost.

HealthGrades, April 2009, also reported improved data in the 6th Annual Patient Safety in Hospitals Study.  Inpatient Medicare admissions from 2005 to 2007 were studied. Only 913,215 patient safety incidents occurred with an associated $6.9 billion in excess costs. Instead of a 1 in 5 chance of dying from a safety incident in 2004-2008; patients’ odds improved to 1 in 10 chance of dying from an incident by 2007.

Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, 2000, estimated medical errors kill up to 98,000 US hospital patients each year.

_______________________________

I decided to write about patient injuries in American hospitals 2010 because – frankly – my career in healthcare quality assurance and risk management was launched as a direct result of a landmark study released in 1978.  Don Harper Mills, M.D. published a study known as the California Medical Insurance Feasibility Study (CMIFS). In 1978, no one knew how many people were actually being injured in hospitals. There was a crisis of available liability insurance for physicians and hospitals, and as a result, compensation alternatives were being considered. In order to fund compensation alternatives for patient victims, actual injury data was needed.

Dr. Mills and his colleagues manually reviewed 20,864 hospital patient medical records from 23 representative California hospitals for the year 1974. They found 970 patients were directly injured by a medical mistake. This was 4.5% of the entire records sampling.  What shook the healthcare industry to the core in 1978 was the following:

When expanding the study sample size to the full statewide population, the data showed there were:

  • 6.5% minor permanent injuries – 9,100 patients;
  • 3.8%  major permanent injuries – 5,300 patients; and
  • 9.7% suffered death – 13,600 patients.

If all of these patients were to be fully compensated under full disclosure and/or no fault insurance plans, the state would not have been able to fund the approach. Insurance companies and states across the country began looking at closed medical malpractice claims, statewide data, medical records that showed the same trends were a national and not just a “California” problem.

Throughout the early 1980’s, we saw state and federal regulations mandating hospitals implement physician peer review and quality assurance programs. Medical malpractice insurance companies and brokers sent consultants into hospitals to begin teaching staff how to set up systems for monitoring care and correcting/improving systems.

The American Society of Healthcare Risk Management was born creating national and state-based initiatives to reduce injuries. The American College of Surgeons published their first Patient Safety Manual for medical staff leadership.

Initiatives from the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations continued into the 1980’s and 1990’s with expanded quality improvement standards.

This great computer age has allowed more sophisticated and widespread comparison of insurance, state and national data than ever before. The data tragically continues to reveal dismal results despite decades of government, state, regulatory, and social pressures for hospitals, physicians, and healthcare professionals to improve.

THE DEBATE RAGES ON …WHAT WILL FIX IT?

While the AMA continues to whine about being sued too often and the tragic impact on physicians, as you see the data show that for decades, patients continued to be significantly injured. A study by Harvard researchers, who reviewed 1452 medical malpractice closed claims in 2006, reported 75% had legal awards consistent with their merit. Two reports by Dartmouth economists in 2005 and RAND in 2004 found awards were consistent with the rising costs of medical care and average awards grew less than real income. The more costly medical care was responsible for more then half the jury awards. A study of American insurance data between 2001 and 2004 showed malpractice awards per doctor were stable or fell, and premium increases were not connected to awards.

In 2009, the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported there was no evidence US doctors were experiencing increasing numbers of lawsuits during 2001-2004.  Over 15 years, states had reported physician insurance premium rates were flat or declined relative to economic and population changes.  The article cited opinions that the problem was not litigation; the problem was malpractice.  However, the AMA is persistent in claiming financial relief is needed. One means they propose is to limit of non-economic damages for pain and suffering nationally to $250,000.

Very recently, American Medical News (amednew.com) issued a summary of 20 new grants issued by the Dept. of Health and Human Services at a cost of $25 million. The grants are to find ways to cut medical errors and improve communication between doctors and patients.  Highlights were:

  • New patient safety programs that include data designed to link with medical liability claims.
  • New York won $3 million to expand and test a judge-directed negotiation program for surgery and obstetrical injured patients.
  • The University of Washington in Seattle won $2.97 million to train physicians, nurses, and pharmacists to communicate.
  • Ohio State University of College of Medicine won $186,214 to establish a statewide database on pregnancy-related deaths for study towards improving outcomes.
  • South Dakota and Sanford Health won $299,995 to develop a state model for collecting medical error data and to design a patient complaint reporting system.

Ironically, the Wall Street Journal article (September 28, 2010) reported physicians were learning from reviewing closed lawsuit claims data. As a result, “Some doctors are using electronic alerts and reminders to order tests, follow-up lab data, and communicate with referral specialists.”

WHY AREN’T THEY ALL DOING THIS?

This June’s Archives of Internal Medicine reported 91% of doctors practice defensive medicine and order too many tests adding huge unnecessary costs to the healthcare system.  The Wall Street Journal article reported a better solution is to  improve larger system failures and prevent errors. Kaiser Permanente uses medical malpractice data for education, but also focuses resources on technology to reduce patient injuries, i.e. close tracking and follow-up of patients with abnormal testing results. The VA is doing the same through an electronic medical record system. This is encouraging.

The insurance company representing Harvard University affiliated hospitals and doctors uses lawsuit data to focus on improvement strategies. Again, from my perspective having worked in the past for a large insurance broker, a statewide project funded by an insurance company, and a medical malpractice insurance company, this is NOTHING NEW.  Out of 456 high severity cases resulting in serious harm to patients, most were diagnostic errors. The insurance executive for the Harvard account is hoping to spur changes in systems and procedures and reduce this finding.

I am hoping he will see results. I trust the headlines will continue to print those results and trends for us to follow.

We can only hope that the coming years will see a dramatic reduction in these preventable medical injuries.

Pursuing an Injury Claim as a Medicare Beneficiary; so what’s the big deal?

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Potential clients come to our office seeking information about different types of injury claims – primarily medical malpractice cases, which often sadly include a catastrophic injury or death of a loved one.  After listening to the family or injured victim tell their story and taking pages upon pages of detailed notes, we then start to ask questions.  One of the first questions we ask is:  ”Are you on Medicare, Medicaid, or do you receive any other type of government benefits?” Sound shallow or irrelevant to the conversation? We can assure you that question is asked with the potential client’s best interests in mind. It also allows our attorneys to offer some initial guidance and cautions to the prospective client – all before putting pen to paper to sign our contract for representation (the contingent fee agreement).

There are many rules, regulations, and procedures that are in place for individuals (we’ll call them ‘claimants’ – although I am not crazy about that word, it will make it easier to remember for purposes of this article) who are making what are called ‘third-party claims’ (pursuing an insurance company, person, or other entity for compensation) and have Medicaid or Medicare coverage.  In addition to issues for those receiving Medicare or Medicaid benefits come concerns for claimants who are receiving benefits through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability (SSD).  We could fill an entire book with all of the ramifications involved with the different types of benefits one could experience when making a third party claim.  For present purposes, we will focus on what we see as the most common type of coverage that causes our ‘legal antenna’ to be activated: Medicare.

Let’s start at the end and work our way back to the beginning of a personal injury claim that involves Medicare coverage/payments.  I say ‘work our way back’ because I cannot tell you how many clients have rightfully asked me the question when their case settles: “When do I get my money?”  The seemingly obvious point in time is immediately after the case settles; however, that would not be correct.  I call this time “the beginning of the case after the case”.  Whenever an attorney represents a Medicare beneficiary and settles their case, the lawyer/law firm is required by law to hold the settlement funds in trust until Medicare is reimbursed the amount of their lien. The lien is the amount of the related medical expenses paid over the course of one ‘s injury claim by Medicare.  While our lawyers take steps throughout the process to submit information to Medicare early and throughout the process to minimize the payout time delay, Medicare does not give a final lien amount for reimbursement until after a case is resolved through settlement or trial. This final lien amount usually takes quite a bit of time to obtain from Medicare and can only be obtained once the case is settled. How much time does it take?  It can take months, although I have seen it (albeit rarely in present time) to take more than a year, and that was with diligent follow-up through letters and phone calls.

Why does it take so long?  Well, we could write yet another entire book on that topic as well. Suffice to say that we believe Medicare has gotten better over the last few years and has really worked diligently to streamline the process.  What clients need to keep in mind (and we as layers do too for that matter) is that Medicare is really given a daunting task: to file, document, maintain, itemize, and finalize files on every claimant in the Unites States making an injury claim where Medicare is involved, I mean, think about it.  That’s A LOT of people and a lot of work.  On top of all of this, you have the appeals process and also have to factor in what a difficult job it is for Medicare to have to ‘figure out’ what treatment paid by Medicare is causally related to the injury claim.  Heck, even the doctors cannot do this sometimes.  How is a claims representative without a medical license sitting in an office somewhere a thousand miles away from the treatment site supposed to do this?! … but I digress.

Our lawyers always try to have our prospective clients understand that when their claim involves Medicare is involved, there is going to be a delay – plain and simple; it is the nature of the beast. What we sometimes have to explain to prospective clients is that it will sometimes not be feasible for a law firm to represent them in a personal injury claim where there is a substantial Medicare lien and the claimant is in a jurisdiction (such as Maryland, Virginia and a host of other jurisdicitons) where there is a cap on the amount of monetary damages one can receive.  A good illustration of this scenario is featured in a prior blog by Brian Nash.  Check it out.

Thinking about ignoring or not paying Medicare back?  Not a good idea.  There are serious civil penalties for not reimbursing Medicare the amount that they are owed.  These penalties extend to the claimants and the lawyers who represent them.  Again, we cannot stress the importance of being 100% in compliance with the Medicare reporting and reimbursement system that is in place.  Medicare also has a system in place for those who think that the law does not apply to them.  You do NOT want to be in that group of people.

So, moving back from the end to the beginning of a claim where Medicare is involved, don’t be surprised if a lawyer tells you that you have a case, or may have a case, but elects not to take your claim.  At our office, we look at a variety of factors when determining whether or not to invest the tens of thousands (and sometimes hundreds of thousands) of dollars needed to vigorously pursue a claim. The reality of a Medicare lien can substantially affect what you can receive in net recovery – the amount you receive after fees, costs and lien reimbursement. As lawyers, we have to look at both the best and worst case scenarios when it comes to the probabilities of recovery, as well as everything in between, when determining which cases are feasible to pursue.  Are there claimants out there who have legitimate cases that come to us that we regrettably have to decline?  Absolutely. Frankly, that is one of the hardest decisions we have to make at times.

If you are someone who believes you have a claim for injuries caused by the negligence of another person and you are receiving benefits through SSI, Medicare, SSD or Medicaid, you simply must discuss with the lawyer with whom you are meeting what this means to you and your potential recovery. Since you can not ignore it, you should deal with it early in the process.

Edited by: Brian Nash

Study Finds Differences Among Doctors, Risk Managers in Admitting Errors – Joint Commission Resources – Answer: Just Tell the Truth!

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety recently issued a report on how Risk Managers (those who handle claims in hospitals as part of their duties) vary from physicians in admitting errors.  The report was based on anonymous surveys of nearly 3,000 risk managers and roughly 1,300 physicians.

Some of the key findings from this survey were as follows:  

  • Risk managers have more favorable attitudes about disclosing errors to patients compared with physicians
  • Risk managers were less supportive of providing a full apology
  • Risk managers expressed more favorable attitudes about the mechanisms at their hospitals or health care organizations to inform physicians about errors
  • Both Risk Managers and physicians agreed that there is a lot of room for improvement in systems to report errors.

The news release issued by the Joint Commission then contains the following quote:

“Fulfilling patients’ expectations for full disclosure of medical errors remains a complicated process. Our data offer additional insight into the complexities of these conversations and reflect the evolving roles of stakeholders beyond the physicians involved in the error,” says lead author David J. Loren, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pediatrics, at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Why is it so complicated?  This past Friday, I reported on an article from the New England Journal of Medicine, in which the concept of acknowledging wrongdoing early in the process is central to current programs to minimize litigation costs and seek alternative methods of coping with “national tort reform legislation.”

If physicians and risk managers only had some idea of how many people we interview for potential claims and lawsuits, who are seeking legal assistance because they ‘just want to know what happened’ or who are just plain angry because no one would talk to them about what went so terribly wrong or even ,in some instances, flat-out lied to them about what happened, they might not need to do a study to conclude – there is a “lot of room for improvement.”

I know – it’s fear of lawyers that leads the health care industry to have such angst over just telling the truth.  What they don’t get is that we, the lawyers, would probably have a lot less people calling us to investigate their claims if someone had just taken the time to figure out what went wrong and told the patient and/or the family the truth.

Malpractice Reform — New England Journal of Medicine – New Alternatives Analyzed

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

There is a thought-provoking article in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled “Malpractice Reform — Opportunities for Leadership by Health Care Institutions and Liability Insurers,” which was posted online on March 31, 2010.  In essence, the authors suggest that health care institutions and insurers not wait for national tort reform legislation (“a political gridlock”) but rather become leaders in the development of alternative methods for “providing compensation for medical injuries.”

While the concept is somewhat intriguing, the methods discussed are in many instances nothing but a privatization of tort reform at its worst. Each “alternative method” will be examined seriatim.  

The overall concept seems to be rooted in what is commonly referred to as the “disclosure-and-offer” approach.  Three models are discussed: the reimbursement model, the early-settlement model and health courts.

Please refer to the article itself for a more thorough description of these models.  The length of this blog is concerning enough.

In essence, with the “reimbursement model, institutions offer to (as the name denotes) reimburse patients for some out-of-pocket expenses related to the injury and for “loss of time.”  Typically, there are pre-determined limits for each category,which often are $25,000 for expenses and $5,000 for loss of time. Clear cases of negligence, fatal injuries, cases that are the subject of a lawsuit or where an attorney is invovled are excluded from the program.  There is no investigation into “possible provider negligence” in this matters. Patients who accept money do not waive their right to sue.

As a general comment, this plan makes the most sense but does not really deal with the infamously named “malpractice crisis” to any large extent.  First, most cases of medical malpractice that make their way to the courthouse could not conceivably fall within these financial parameters.  If a malpractice lawyer takes on a case with $30,000 in special damages (economic losses such as medical bills and lost wages), that lawyer needs to reassess their intake procedures. Given the economics of costs of litigation (not fees), mandatory reimbursements such as Medicare and Medicaid, liens from private insurers and the like, it would be foolhardy for a lawyer to become involved in such matters since the client’s net recovery would be non-existent.  What does make sense, however, is no-fault reimbursement to patients with minor, non-permanent injuries as a sign of goodwill by the providers of health care.  In that respect, the “reimbursement model” is a good program – given its express limitations.

Another major defect in this “reimbursement model” is the premise that there is no “investigation into possible provider negligence.”  If I am reading this correctly (none of the hospitals with which I am familiar in our geographical area have such plans presently; therefore, I am not certain how this works), the risk manager or claims person simply decides to write-off the loss as potentially a cost-savings measure.  One of the positive features of our current litigation system (when meritorious cases are brought) is that it does serve to correct errors in the health care delivery system.  When a major injury case is brought, many valuable lessons are learned by providers of health care.  Whether there is a “system problem” or just a dangerous method of practice at play, people do (unless they are completely arrogant and/or dense) learn lessons so that other patients do not suffer the same harm. One of the goals of the medical profession in analyzing, handing and resolving cases of medical errors is to identify problems and take steps to correct those problems for future injury avoidance.  An entire essay, rather than a blog, could be devoted (and maybe will be) to this concept of the health care industry policing itself through conscientious, rigorous self-appraisal and correction when wrongs are identified.

The “early-settlement” model is described in the NEJM article as follows: “no preset limits on compensation,” but compensation is not offered unless the institution, “after an expedited investigation, determines that the care was inappropriate.”  Offers may include compensation for all elements of damage – economic as well as non-economic (e.g. pain and suffering) damages.  To accept the money, the patient must agree that such payment constitutes a “final settlement” – thus obviating the bringing of a lawsuit.

More research into this ‘early-settlement” model is called for since the NEJM article does not go into other critical details associated with such an approach.  Since the model was “pioneered by the self-insured University of Michigan Health System,” I intend to devote a separate writing to this program once more research on its possible limitations and efficacy has been accomplished.

Suffice it to say for the present that if such a model precludes attorney involvement, then this is a fatal flaw.  The reason individuals come to a lawyer when tragedy occurs in the medical context is because those of us who specialize in this area of law know and understand (1) what  proper claims should be made and (2) what the fair and reasonable parameters of just compensation are for the victims of medical malpractice.  Sure, one can take a jaded approach and scoff – “All the lawyer wants is a fee and that’s why you are against this model”  Simply not so.  A substantially reduced fee arrangement may well be in order in such instances.  If the client is at least properly represented and the case is handled expeditiously and the compensation is fair and reasonable, then I for one believe that a reduced fee is in order which would further benefit the patient/client.

That’s not the full story, however, when it comes to discussing this so-called model.

In our current system of medical malpractice litigation, the system would work a whole lot better and be much less expensive and be much more efficient if these same principles were applied to the current claims handling practices of insurers and self-insured health care providers.

One of the largest drawbacks  for both the health care system and for the patient/client are the costs associated with medical malpractice litigation.  I recently wrote a blog regarding the issue of costs and their effect on the so-called malpractice crisis.  When clear-cut cases of medical negligence exist and are ignored or denied by risk management or insurance claims  personnel, the costs sky-rocket.  The health care insurer or provider hires counsel at an hourly rate to defend the case.  Discovery in the form of record production, depositions and the like proceed with sickening and dollar-wasting frustration for the plaintiff lawyers and their clients.  Cases slog along unmercifully through the system for months if not years. If you have a clue what you are doing as an experienced medical malpractice lawyer, you have a pretty good sense of what cases have merit and which do not.  Of course, no one is infallible, but for the most part, “good cases almost try themselves.”

Applying the principles of the “early settlement” model to what exists in today’s world of medical malpractice, I suspect that nationally, on an annual basis, billions of dollars would be saved in ridding our system of the needless waste of money in defending cases that should have been resolved early in the process.  Why not take the principles of this model and apply them to what exists in the current system?  That’s what the health insurance industry should have been doing years before now.  Did they need a new “model” to tell them that? If insurers took a more responsible approach by fairly and honestly assessing these cases and did so in an “expeditious” fashion, our courts would not be clogged with needless litigation, the health care industry would save enormous amounts of money, and – most important – patients would be justly and timely compensated.  If only the public knew just how much waste there is in our current system due to the lack of due diligence and timely claims handling, they would perhaps have a more balanced approach to this ‘discussion’ of tort reform.

Institutions and insurers that are responsible in their claims handling practice are not the problem.  Fortunately, in my work for  years as a defense lawyer, I had the privilege of working for one such organization. Unfortunately, they are not in the majority.  I would love to see figures of defense costs (fees and expenses) on those cases that are ultimately settled or unsuccessfully defended.  I have zero doubt that those numbers are staggering.  If those fees and costs were substantially reduced through conscientious and timely claims handling, we might well not be having this discussion of tort reform in the first place.  When critics say blame the plaintiff lawyers – they may have half the phrase right – just not the right adjective.  A fuller discussion of the abject waste due to poor claims handling and delaying tactics by the defense bar is the subject for future consideration.

Finally, the infamous option of the ‘health courts.’  Succinctly stated (in the interest of relative blog-brevity), the essentials are described in part as follows:

A panel of experts, aided by decision guidelines,determines whether the injury was avoidable — a determination that turns on whether the injury would ordinarily have occurred if the care had been provided by the best specialist or an optimal health care system; the avoidability standard is more generous than the negligence standard. For avoidable injuries, the institutionoffers full recompense for economic losses plus an amount for pain and suffering according to a predetermined compensation schedule that is based on injury severity.

Various alternatives for this model are discussed in the NEJM article and include items such as making the program voluntary, permitting limited appeals to some extent and so on.  As one reads further, however, repugnant elements start rearing their ugly heads.  Just some of these components of the ‘health court’ system proposal are (1) waivers of the right to file a lawsuit “as a contractual condition of receiving care,” (2) so-called “decision guidelines,”  and (3) “predetermined compensation schedules.”

Waivers of right to a jury trial as a condition to receiving care screams “void for being against public policy.”  Who is advising a patient in need of care what his or her rights are when signing a waiver. Can’t you just picture the following scenario?  Mr. Jones is clutching his chest in the ED and before care is rendered he’s asked, “Would you like to receive care here?  If so, you will need to sign this waiver form.”

Predetermined schedules of compensation?  Is this a euphemism for contractually created caps?

The NEJM article raises some valid issues and concerns. A great deal more thought of how to fix the system is warranted.  The answer may well  lie in the underlying approach being advocated in the article – malpractice reform should be self-initiating for health care institutions and liability insurers.  They should take a leadership role and not sit passively on the sideline shouting the same old song – “We need caps….Our system is about to crumble…It’s all the fault of the greedy plaintiff lawyers!”  Maybe a new model is in order – grab a mirror and examine how to better police your own claims-handling practices.  Stop wasting everyone’s time and money through poor claims practices.  Expeditiously and honestly assess claims.  Offer fair compensation early in the process.  Maybe if the health care and insurance industries tried fixing their own practices in the framework of the current system of civil justice, these endless calls for restricting injured patient’s rights might stop and the so-called crisis just might be averted.  Ever consider working with the plaintiff malpractice bar….or is just a lot easier blaming them?

Tort Reform – Consider the Consequences – Lesson #1

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Lost in all of this discussion about how tort reform and caps on damages will save the medical profession has been a discussion of what is really behind all this nonsense.  The Republicans claim that the reason the healthcare system is broken is because of the rising costs of malpractice insurance due to high verdicts, ‘out of control’ juries, the plaintiff lawyers and every other specious argument that sounds good but has no basis in reality.  Study after study has demonstrated that jurisdictions with caps do not affect malpractice insurance rates.

Has anyone really thought about why these naysayers are incessantly calling for a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damages?  It’s a simple matter of mathematics.  This number is not based in any reality of insurance rates – now is it?  Have you seen a single study that uses this ‘magic number’ to demonstrate how this will save healthcare?  If you have, please share it with the rest of us.  That comment will be posted in a heartbeat.

So what is behind this ‘number’?  What is the usual contingent fee being charged these days – 33 1/3 or 40 percent?  How much does it cost to investigate, file and try to conclusion a medical malpractice case of any consequence?   Answer: it can range anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000 (rough averages but pretty accurate). What is the largest cost?  Answer:  medical experts, who charge anywhere from typically $350 to $1,000 per hour.  What part of the population typically receives less than optimal (read ‘Cadillac’) care – answer: lower income patients without any coverage or without ‘the best coverage. ‘ When those patients seek care, how are those bills often financially covered?  Answer:  Medicaid or Medicare.  Do you have any understanding of what a ‘super lien’ is?  Answer: Medicare and Medicaid have an absolute right to complete reimbursement of any related medical expenses paid out in such cases.

So how do all these numbers, issues and forces play out in the real world of medical malpractice? What effect would a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damages have on whether a bona fide lawsuit (read: awful care causing serious injury) could ever be brought to court?

So that this posting can stay within the realm of reason in terms of length, I’ll just give you the above factors to ponder for a bit.  Later posts will give you more concrete examples of how, in the real world of malpractice cases, these specious arguments for caps and ‘tort reform’ are nothing more than an attempt to deny patients and their families of access to the courts.

Let’s leave you with a thought – a patient on Medicaid receives awful medical care leading to horrible injuries requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars in past and future care needs.   What do you think a client would recover in such a situation under ‘tort reform’ and a cap of $250,000?

Recovery of those costs do not go to the patient but are the subject of a reimbursable lien.  That potentially leaves recovery for non-economic damages only.  Apply a fee of one-third (answer:  just over $80,000) and costs of (let’s say) $125,000 (totally within the ‘usual’ range).  Have you done the math?  That’s about $45,000 to the client.  How does a lawyer satisfy a client’s needs in that scenario?  You can’t.  Do you do the case ‘on the cheap’ and not hire the experts or do the discovery you need to do?  You can’t – that runs the risk for the client of not winning – in which case the recovery is nothing.

Now are you starting to get the picture what is really behind the proposed ‘tort reform’s cap’?  Don’t think for one minute that the medical profession and its insurers haven’t done the math.

More to come….