Archive for the ‘Lawyers’ Category

Week in Review: (July 2 – July 9, 2011) Eye Opener Health, Law and Medicine Blog

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

Eye Opener’s Week in Review

From the guest editor:         Good morning! I was hoping that you would take a break from making your “to do” list to stop by and check in with us. As usual, we have been busy blogging. And practicing law. And getting ready for trial. And in trial! Needless to say, we have been pushing it to the limits. In truth, we wouldn’t have it any other way. Before we get back to trial preparation, lets take a step back and look at the past week.

–Jason Penn, guest editor

Litigating for the Sake of Litigating: A Temptation to Be Resisted

By Jon Stefanuca

What do you do when your opposing counsel forgets that the practice of law is a profession and not a blood sport? What do you do when the phase “zealous representation” gets confused with “obnoxious obstructionist behavior?” When faced with similar frustrations, Jon Stefanuca broke out his keyboard and explained what we litigators deal with on a day to day basis. Being a lawyer is a very rewarding profession, but like any other, it has its share of frustrations. Don’t take my word for it, read more…

Can Copper Surfaces and Duct Tape Reduce Hospital Infections and Deaths?

By Sara Keogh

Germs are in your kitchen.  They are in your bathroom and your bedroom.  They are on your fingertips and even on your tongue.  And everyone knows that there are going to be germs in hospitals. Even the best hospitals have to work to keep the patients, rooms and visitors clean and safe.  Sara Keogh reported on news that may make keeping hospitals and other health care environments less germy in the future. Two simple solutions, copper and duct tape, might have a major impact on infection control.  Read more…

Sneak Peak of the Week Ahead:

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
  • Legal Boot Camp is back in session and Part IV of our Cerebral Palsy tutorial.
  • And more!

Images courtesy of:

www.lifehack.org

www.mountainpulse.blogspot.org

 

Don’t underestimate jurors. They really do get it – most of the time!

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

I just finished a two week trial that was probably one of the most complex medical cases of my 37 year career. Since the “resolution” of the case is the subject of a confidentiality agreement, I’m not at liberty to discuss the details of the case or its “resolution.” Nevertheless, what I am free to tell you is that having tried hundreds of jury trials over my career, it amazes me just how often jurors “get it” when it comes to doing their very best to understand the evidence thrown at them and to do “the right thing.”

The case involved about 8,000 pages of medical records. Jurors heard from 8 medical witnesses ranging from surgery, to infectious disease, to radiology to pathology. This was not a case involving “Anatomy 101″; it was an advanced course in the biomechanics of the spine, neural element compression, biofilms on hardware, pulmonary hypertension, deep vein thrombosis – well, you get the picture.

After nine grueling, long days of evidence, sitting in hard, non-cushioned chairs and having to endure seemingly endless bench conferences dealing with evidentiary issues and objections that the jury was not allowed to follow, our panel patiently waited for over two hours on their final day of service while the parties to the lawsuit worked out “a resolution” of the case. The trial was to end the next day (today). They, the jurors, would finally get to speak to us, rather than having us speak to them for over two weeks.

Once the details of the “resolution” were hammered out, the judge had the courtroom clerk bring the jury into the courtroom to take their “luxurious” wooden seats. The Court announced that the parties had “resolved” the case and that the jurors’ service was now completed. Nine plus days and countless hours of sitting and listening – and now – no chance to deliberate and tell the parties who they – the jurors - thought was right in this legal battle. The judge then advised them that they had served a most important function because many times (this being one of them) the parties could not reach agreement – uh “resolution” – without them. It was further announced by the Court that if they cared to do so, they were now free to speak with the lawyers.

Rather than gather up their belongings and hustle out the door, each and every one of them remained in the courtroom to share their thoughts and observations of the trial. Once again, as has happened so many times in my career, I was pleasantly surprised  and amazed by what they had to say. Peppered with questions by the lawyers to see if they “got it,” our jurors shared their observations about key issues in the case. The told us about their “take” on the evidence involving T1 versus T2 weighted MRI’s. They accurately recounted the evidence regarding the issues of “sub-clinical infection.” They shared their individual thoughts and reflections on what role the decedent’s underlying, complicated co-morbidities played in their analysis of causation.

We’re not talking about a panel of medical experts here. We’re talking about everyday folks, who brought their common sense and varying levels of education and life-experiences to the litigation table. They “got it”!

None of the parties will ever know what the jury’s eventual verdict would have been. Nevertheless, because of the uncertainty of that verdict, the opposing sides in this lawsuit worked their way through a morass of emotion, righteousness, principles – you name it – to get the case “resolved.”

I hear so often from “professionals” that the jury system is broken. They rant endlessly that we need “professional” finders of fact to arrive at just results. Oh really! If that’s the case, then why is it that each side can have highly qualified experts, who can’t agree on the interpretation of medical evidence? Maybe – just maybe – it takes people of plain common sense, goodwill and a sense of justice to get it right.

Have jurors arrived at verdicts in my career that make you want to retire from the practice of law? They have – but on very rare occasions. When you put aside the self-righteousness of bias and advocacy and reflect on verdicts, many lawyers – I for one – appreciate that juries really do “get it” and really try to do “the right thing.”

To all the cynics out there, don’t be so unwilling to appreciate what these citizens do to advance our system of justice. Is the system perfect? Far from it, but not as far from it as many would have you believe.

Let me end by simply saying – THANKS to our citizens who made-up our jury. Your patience, attentiveness, endurance and willingness to serve is very much appreciated. You could easily have dreamed-up a way to avoid service on the jury during the selection (voir dire) process (as so many do in so many pathetic ways), but you didn’t do that. Kudos to each and every one of you. You did advance the cause of justice. You made the parties to this lawsuit take note of the fact that maybe, just maybe, their view of the case was about to be tested in the crucible of the jury room. That knowledge and the reality of an impending verdict made them step back, take a deep breath and come to a “resolution” of their dispute. Well done, Citizens! I for one applaud you.

How Do I Choose A Lawyer? A Helpful Guide

Monday, June 20th, 2011

One of the most important things you can do if you are considering a lawsuit is to spend time doing a proper search for the lawyer, who will be handling your case.

Just because a law firm or a lawyer has a fancy webpage or an eye-catching ad in your local phone directory or even a professional looking TV commercial does not mean that this lawyer has a clue what he/she is doing in the specialized areas of medical malpractice or catastrophic personal injury.

We invite you to read and consider the issues and questions raised in our White Paper – “How to Choose a Lawyer.”

If you have other ideas or questions that you believe would be helpful to our readers in their search for a lawyer, post your reply on this topic so others may benefit by your insights.

 

Image courtesy of www.quadtechint.com

 

Legal Boot Camp (Class Three): Sean and Kristy’s Story – Wrongful Death and Survival Actions

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

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

Last month, Sean turned 24.  He and Kristy are married. Their daughter, Kira, is 2-years old.  Sean just entered medical school. Kristy’s parents support them, while Sean is in school.  Sean has never held a job.  Kristy is a stay at home mom. A month ago, Sean was driving home when a drunk driver pushed him off the road. In the accident, Sean broke his sternum. He also sustained a number of vascular injuries, which caused internal bleeding. He was rushed to the nearest hospital. Soon after his arrival, Sean underwent surgery to stop the bleeding.

Sean was recovering beautifully. Unfortunately, on his third day in the hospital, he developed rapid breathing, shortness of breath, and his chest pain got worse. A CT scan of the chest revealed that Sean had a pulmonary embolism. He was immediately ordered anticoagulation medication. The physician ordered 100 mg of anticoagulation medication to be split into two doses a day. The nurse misread the order and mistakenly administered 1000mg all at once. The overdose caused Sean to have extensive bleeding. Sean was scheduled for discharge within the next 3 days. Instead, he died within a few hours.

Now, think about this: Sean died prematurely at the young age of 24. Kira, lost her father. Kristy lost her husband. She now has a child to support all by herself. She has no income of her own, and she can’t rely on her parents indefinitely. After careful consideration, Kristy decided to sue the nurse (and her employer, the hospital) who overdosed her husband.

In Maryland, what will she be able to recover against the nurse in a medical malpractice suit if the jury finds the nurse (and/or her employer the hospital) negligent?

Recovery in a Maryland Survival Action

The answer to that question depends on the type of action brought against the nurse and/or hospital . Kristy, as the Personal Representative of Sean’s Estate, can sue the nurse  (i.e. a survival action). In a survival action, Kristy is essentially bringing a claim on behalf of her deceased husband for damages that he would have been entitled to claim against the nurse had he lived (i.e. had he survived – thus the name “survival action”).  In such an action, the monetary award would go to Sean’s Estate, and it would be distributed according to his will or, if he died without a will, according to Maryland’s Intestate Statute. In a survival action, Kristy can recover the medical expenses incurred by Sean as a result of the nurse’s negligence. This amount would be insignificant because Sean died within a couple of hours from the time the medication was administered.

Kristy may also recover any of Sean’s lost earnings from the time of his injury to the time of his death. Well, there are no such damages here because Sean was unemployed. Kristy could recover Sean’s funeral expenses up to five thousand dollars. She could also recover non-economic damages associated with Sean’s pain and suffering from the time of his injury to the time of his death.  In Maryland, however, these damages are limited in Maryland to about  $650,000.  Therefore, the most Kristy could recover in a survival action would be limited to about $655,000.

Recovery in a Wrongful Death Action

Kristy could also bring an action for wrongful death. In this action, Kristy could recover economic damages that she personally sustained as a result of Sean’s death. She is also entitled to recover economic damages equal to the financial support that she would have had from Sean had he lived.  In this case, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make such a determination. Sean was unemployed at the time of his death. He had no employment history.  Sean was not supporting his family financially. Kristy’s parents supported both of them.

So, how does one calculate the financial support that Kristy’s could reasonably have expected to receive from Sean in the future had he lived? One could argue, pursuant to a number of Maryland cases, that Kristy is not entitled to recover any of Sean’s future lost wages because he never worked and because he never supported Kristy financially.

Theoretically, Kristy could make a claim for loss of household services (cooking, cleaning, babysitting, etc.). In this case, however, Sean was a busy medical student, and Kristy was in charge of the household.  Therefore, it is unlikely that she would recover any such damages.

Wrongful Death – Solatium (non-economic damages)

Since her case would be in Maryland, Kristy could claim damages for her mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering, loss of society, loss of companionship, comfort, protection, marital care, attention, advice and counsel associated with Sean’s death. Here again, these damages are limited to about $650,000 notwithstanding the severity of Kristy’s pain and suffering.

Total Recovery in a Survival and a Wrongful Death Action

If Kristy were to bring a survival action and a wrongful death action in Maryland, her damages for pain and suffering under both actions would be overall capped somewhere between $812,000 and $868,000 (the “cap” on such damages is determined by the year the “cause of action accrues). It is possible that this is all she would be able to reocover against the nurse if she brought claims for wrongful death and survival.

Sean’s daughter, Kira, has a wrongful death claim against the nurse as well.  She would be entitled to recover the value of the support, which Sean would have provided to her had he survived.  Again, because Sean never actually supported Kira financially and because he never worked, that may be something very difficult to prove.  Kira, just like her mother, will be able to claim damages for her pain and suffering resulting from her father’s death. However this recovery would also  be limited to about $650,000. This cap is imposed on both Kira and Kristy’s recovery. That is, if a jury were to award Kristy $650,000 for pain and suffering and another  amount  of $650,000  to Kristy for pain and suffering, both Kira and Kristy would recover an overall amount of $650,000 (not $1,300,000).

Keep in mind, these “possible recoveries” are reduced by the costs and fees associated with litigation.

Justice or Injustice?

Now, think about this for a second… Sean’s normal life expectancy was going to be approximately another 50 years. All things being equal, he would have had a normal working life expectancy. Kristy’s life expectancy is about the same. Kira has another 16 years before she reaches the age of 18. The average cost of living in Maryland is about $3400/month, and in some places it is a lot more. Generally speaking,  college tuitions can be anywhere between $8,000/year and 35,000/year. The average cost for family health insurance is about $13,300/year.

So, you do the math: How long is Kristy’s recovery going to last?  How are Kristy and Kira’s lives going to be affected by the Sean’s death? Is Kristy’s recovery sufficient compensation for her loss?  The principle of compensatory damages is to put a litigant in the same position that she/he would have been in had the loss not occurred. I, for one, think that this is hardly achieved in this case.

If in a survival action the Estate can bring an action that Sean himself could have brought had he survived, why should his Estate not recover all of his lost future income as a doctor? After all, Sean was expected to earn income as a physician for many years. Why should Kristy be precluded from recovering some of Sean’s future lost wages under the wrongful death action simply because Sean was not employed or contributing financially to his family at the time of his death? Surely, it is reasonable to assume that Sean would have contributed some or most of his income to his family. Finally, why should the State dictate what the value of Sean and Kristy’s pain and suffering is? Shouldn’t this be decided by a jury of their peers? What are your thoughts?

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.


 

 

Week in Review: (May 22 – 28, 2011) The Eye Opener Health, Law and Medicine Blog

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

From the Editor – Brian Nash

Last week’s posts by our blawgers were packed with information about a variety of topics ranging from the medicine you need to know about concussions, living with cancer, cerebral palsy resources and the potential risks of overdosing your child with medications.

On the legal front, we began a series I’m personally excited about. We call it Legal Boot Camp. It will be a series for those in our practice jurisdictions of Maryland and Washington, D.C. Our teacher’s face is on – lesson plans in place. We hope you learn some things about the laws that can affect your lives in the areas of personal injury – particularly medical malpractice law.  Our first class took place with a piece by Sarah Keogh that examines the law in Maryland on the right to claim loss/diminished earning capacity. If you’re wondering if you can have such a claim even if you weren’t working when you were injured, Sarah has some information for you. Check it out. Turn in your class card and have some fun.

We wrapped up the week with a piece by yours truly on a wonderful community outreach program by our local baseball heroes, the Baltimore Orioles. Aptly named – OriolesREACH, this initiative has a number of wonderful events, charities and missions that are worth knowing about. One in particular, Shannon’s Fund, is a great program to help those in need while dealing with the financial burdens while dealing with cancer. It is run by the University of Maryland Medical Center. Read about our challenge to our brethren before the bar in the Greater Baltimore Area.

Without further ado, here are the blogs we posted this past week …. and a sneak peak of the week ahead.

Concussions: The Message of Brian Roberts’ Injury Should Not Go Unheeded

Posted by Brian Nash

Anyone who follows sports is well aware that finally the old school mentality of “gut it out and get back in there” following blows to the head are coming (not too soon) to an end. Committees have been formed, articles written and the national spotlight of the media have finally focused on this issue. Those recommendations, debates and guidelines are beyond the scope of this post. Nevertheless, those involved in sports…Read more >

Children’s Medications: Coming Changes and Tips to Avoid Overdose

Posted by Sarah Keogh

My children are both young; the youngest is now a little past her second birthday. In the last few years, we have had both infant and children medication in the house, liquid and tablets, and I have been very careful to make sure to double-check myself if I ever have to medicate either child to make sure that I am reading the correct dosing matrix for the correct concentration and for the correct child. More often than not, I have found that children need medication when their parents are tired. As parents know – children frequently…Read more >

 

Living With Cancer: What to Expect After the Diagnosis

Posted by Jon Stefanuca

About a million and a half people will be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. this year. The devastating truth about cancer is that about one-third of these people will die from cancer at some point. For most, the diagnosis is unexpected and completely overwhelming.The cancer does not just affect how one feels, it undermines all sense of security and stability. It changes lifestyles and redefines relationships. So often the emotional trauma is equally shared among family members and loved ones. Read more >

New Blog Series: Legal Boot Camp

Posted by Brian Nash

I’m really pleased to announce a new series we’re starting today. If you’re a reader of our blog, you know that we post numerous times a week on health, safety, medicine and related law topics. That’s what we do in our firm – we represent people who are injured by the negligence of health care providers and those who suffer catastrophic injuries in non-medical settings as well. So, sharing what we believe is some good information about medical, health and safety issues is our mission. We strongly believe that our social networking should be about giving good information, engaging in dialogue about relevant issues – just plain good, old sharing. Read more >

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

Posted by Sarah Keogh

A 41-year-old woman, Pam, who was laid off from her job as a swimming instructor and swim coach in December of 2009, has been struggling to find a new position for the last few years. Even though Pam had been working as a swimming instructor full-time for the past 18 years, she felt that she needed to jump into a new career while waiting to find a new position as a swimming instructor and coach. Starting in October of 2010, her father died leaving her a rundown home that he had recently purchased with the intent of renovating it. Pam felt that she could put her physical fitness and knowledge of home aesthetics to work, not to mention the ideas she picked up watching renovations shows while unemployed, by renovating the home her father left… Read more >

Dealing with Cerebral Palsy: A Resource for Parents and Family

Posted by Jason Penn

Today’s society has become increasingly dependent on aggregators. We use a variety of methods to assemble and sort information so that we can easily consume it.  Mint.com and Quicken help with our finances and Google Reader helps to manage our online content. A quick search of the internet suggests that the parents of children withcerebral palsy do not yet have an objective aggregator of information to turn to.  Let’s consider this our attempt to provide parents in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. areas with a place to turn. Read more >

Charity Begins at Home: OriolesREACH Program Hits a Grand Slam with Us!

Posted by Brian Nash

I recently wrote a post about our local area charities and civic organizations who do so much for so many in our community. With that in mind, as I was happily reading the sports page in the warm glow of the Orioles’ 12th inning victory yesterday (5 in a row – Go O’s), I came across a piece about a new initiative for our military personnel by the Birds. While looking at the details of this worthy program, I noticed (ashamedly for the first time, I admit) a host of community programs being run by the Orioles. The team uses the name OriolesREACH for the community programs they sponsor, promote or fund. Read more >

Sneak Peak of the Week Ahead

Here’s a sampling of what’s coming next week on The Eye Opener: Views and Opinions from the Nash Community:

  • As families prepare for the upcoming holidays and summer vacation, Theresa Neumann has some important medical advice about what else needs to be included in your travel plans.
  • Legal Boot Camp: Prepare for our second class – get those pencils, pens, iPads and whatever else you need out and ready – there could be a pop quiz on next week’s primary on law.
  • What rights do babies-before-birth (fetal rights) have in our legal system? Do parents who lose a child just before birth have any rights of recovery? You’ll find out next week.
  • Home births are on the rise. Is that a good or a bad thing? Sarah Keogh weighs in on that issue in the coming edition of The Eye Opener

And….maybe even more to come…you can never tell….

Have a wonderful and safe Memorial Day Weekend. Best to All of You and Your Families and Friends from All of Us at Nash & Associates

Charity begins at home: OriolesREACH program hits a grand slam with us!

Friday, May 27th, 2011

I recently wrote a post about our local area charities and civic organizations who do so much for so many in our community. With that in mind, as I was happily reading the sports page in the warm glow of the Orioles’ 12th inning victory yesterday (5 in a row – Go O’s), I came across a piece about a new initiative for our military personnel by the Birds. While looking at the details of this worthy program, I noticed (ashamedly for the first time, I admit) a host of community programs being run by the Orioles. The team uses the name OriolesREACH for the community programs they sponsor, promote or fund.

Image from Orioles.com - REACH programs

Baltimore Orioles Charitable Foundation

Here’s the blurb about this Foundation on the O’s website Orioles.com:

The Baltimore Orioles Charitable Foundation and the Baltimore Orioles, Inc., support many civic and charitable organizations with the goal of enriching the lives of fans throughout Birdland. Since the ownership group led by Peter Angelos purchased the team, the Baltimore Orioles have donated more than $10 million to support various organizations in the community.

In addition to these donations, we all know that the O’s players, coaches and personnel are out in our community giving of their time and money to so many great causes. Of course, it’s not only our Birds who do so much for our community, our Ravens, among many others, are right there with them front and center as well. Kudos to all of you!

Shannon’s Fund

Among the many worthwhile causes and programs, I took note of one in particular that resonated with me – Shannon’s Fund. While you can certainly click on the link I just provided, here’s a  short summary of what this fund is all about:

Shannon Obaker from Orioles.com

In 2008, the Orioles and OriolesREACH established Shannon’s Fund, a $50,000 endowment at the University of Maryland Medical Center to provide financial assistance to hospital patients and their families. Created in memory of Shannon Obaker – the team’s Director of Community Outreach who bravely fought cancer for over a year before passing away in 2007 at age 29 – Shannon’s Fund is administered by the University of Maryland Medical Center. Funds are donated to patients and their family members as need arises to assist with the general expenses associated with the treatment process, including hospital parking, alternate housing, food costs and household bills.

A wonderful program indeed! Have you ever known a family in need of help with the expenses associated with medical care? If you’re old enough to read this, I suspect the answer is “yes.”

Ironic – I think not!

So why would a lawyer who makes a living suing medical care providers for patients injured by medical negligence be promoting a fund administered by a local area hospital whom he has sued on more than one occasion? Maybe you can ask Mr. Angelos the same question. His generosity in charitable gifts, time and resources in this community is legendary.

The two principles are really not conflicting. If a health care provider causes injury to a patient through wrongdoing, redress in the form of proper compensation to the victim of that malpractice is absolutely the good and proper result – a good and worthy cause. If a health care provider, who does so much good for so many people as a general rule, organizes, runs and promotes a worthy community program such as Shannon’s Fund, that is also a good and worthy cause to promote! Simply put – in my humble opinion – it’s all about doing the right thing in different ways.

So….with that in mind, I’m here today to promote the OriolesREACH programs and more specifically, among them,  Shannon’s Fund.

A Call to Action – to All – but particularly Lawyers in Baltimore

Starting today, our firm will be making regular contributions to Shannon’s Fund. We will be adding it to the list of community outreach programs we are involved with throughout the year – not just during the baseball season.

Since lawyers are said to like a challenge or two, we’re issuing a challenge to our fellow friends and lawyers in the Greater Baltimore Area to join us in helping fund this program at the University of Maryland Medical Center. We’ll even make it easy for you – here’s the link for online donations provided by our Birds – Donate to Shannon’s Fund.

Best of luck and continued success to the Orioles in all of their community outreach programs. Well done… and if you could just make baseball fun in September again (or maybe even October), that would be great too!

 

New Blog Series:Legal Boot Camp

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

I’m really pleased to announce a new series we’re starting today. If you’re a reader of our blog, you know that we post numerous times a week on health, safety, medicine and related law topics. That’s what we do in our firm – we represent people who are injured by the negligence of health care providers and those who suffer catastrophic injuries in non-medical settings as well. So, sharing what we believe is some good information about medical, health and safety issues is our mission. We strongly believe that our social networking should be about giving good information, engaging in dialogue about relevant issues – just plain good, old sharing.

For well over a year now, we’ve been blogging away on these topics. No, we’re not doctors; we just happen to deal with medical, safety and health issues in our daily law practice. Our experience, which is a combined one of many decades (roughly over 75 years) of litigating personal injury and our sub-specialty of medical malpractice cases has given us some pretty good insights into how law and medicine intertwine.

What’s new then…?

We’ve said this so many times that I’ve lost any realistic count – an informed patient is one who can better serve their own health care and medical needs. Our “tips and tricks” have been designed to make our readers more educated in health and safety issues so that when they have a medical condition or need medical care or suffer serious injuries along the way, they are hopefully better equipped to get involved in dealing with their issues.

Well, now the time has come, we feel, to make our readers more educated in the laws that potentially affect their lives as well. Love lawyers or hate lawyers (or somewhere in between), there’s no escaping the reality that every one of us lives within a social framework of laws – some created by the common law and some by legislation. We want to offer you, our readers, some insights into what some of the laws are that can possibly affect you in the field of personal injury and medical malpractice. A better educated client is our goal and our new add-on mission. We’ll keep trying to put good, new content out there for you about health, medicine and safety. It’s our bread and butter of social networking. Since we’re lawyers, however, we figured – hey, why not share some information and insights about the law with you as well. You won’t even get a tuition bill in the mail – what a deal!

What will be discussing that might interest you?

First I need to be clear on the scope of what we’ll be discussing. Our lawyers are admitted in Maryland and Washington, D.C. Sure, we occasionally will seek permission from courts in other states to appear before them through a procedure known as pro hac vice – (okay – check out the link if you want – you just had your first mini-law-lesson).Those cases are, of necessity, few and far between. We’re pretty darn busy helping people in our own backyard(s)- D.C. and Maryland. So, with that in mind, we’re going to gear our posts for the Legal Boot Camp to legal issues in Maryland and Washington, D.C. If you don’t live in one of these beautiful places, you might want to have a “read” anyway. Needless to say, laws can vary tremendously from one jurisdiction to another. The legal issues, however, are many times common to all. The answers are often what vary. Central to any civil lawsuit for personal injury or medical malpractice case might be issues such as what is a statute of limitations?, or what is a statute of repose?, or what’s the difference between them?, or what damages are recoverable in a personal injury lawsuit, or what is meant by “the standard of care” in a medical malpractice case? or what really is a common law marriage? and on and on and on.

The Disclaimer

Yeah, you had to know one was coming. Hey, we are lawyers!

If you didn’t know, we can’t offer you legal advice in a blog, tweet or Facebook post. We can, however, share some of our knowledge of issues that just might impact you. No, just by reading our posts we do not have an attorney-client relationship. OK…got it? I suspect you do, so let’s move on.

Our “Legal Boot Camp” Format

For those of you who haven’t been to law school, let me start by sharing the typical way a class in law school would go – at least when I was there a few years ago. Yes, we had real, electric lights way back then and were not limited to studying by the glow of a fireplace or candle.

The assignments in whatever class you were taking were pretty much the same. Read a case or two (in torts, contracts, corporations, etc.). When you came to class, be prepared to “present” the following: (a) the facts of the case, (b) the issues of the case and (c) the holding(s) of the case. From there the discussion would take off. Well, since this style of legal education seems to have worked for quite a few of my fellow lawyers, that’s what we’re typically going to do.

The facts….and only the facts…

We’ll be giving you a fact pattern so you can see the issue and the law in a factual context. Politicians now like to give you a story first for their message. Why not us? The facts for our posts will sometimes be from cases we’ve handled or are currently working on (all identifying information will be deleted or modified for a host of reasons). Sometimes we’ll make our fact pattern as a composite from various cases we’ve handled. We hope you’ll find that they’re done in such a way as to make the issues and the legal holdings more understandable.

So, hand in your class attendance card; let’s have some fun!

We’re starting off this series with a post by Sarah Keogh, which I’ll post right after I hit “publish” on this announcement piece. Sarah tells the story of Pam, who was a swimming instructor before she was injured during a simple surgical procedure at a local Maryland hospital. What rights and claims does Pam have for her lost wages – even if she wasn’t making a whole lot, if anything – at the time of her surgery? Does she have any or is she flat out of luck for the rest of her days? Read the facts, figure out the “issue,” and learn some law.

Before you head over to your first class on Maryland law, here’s a tip. If you want to follow the course and would like easy access to our lessons, you can go to our search bar on the main blog page and just type in “Legal Boot Camp.” We’re also going to tag our Twitter posts in this series with the designation #LBC. Ok…now hand in your card and get your free legal education.

Week in Review (April 16 – 20, 2011) The Eye Opener Health, Law and Medicine Blog

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

From the Editor (Brian Nash)

Another week of great posts (IMHO) by our blawgers. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so since we have now surpassed 21,000 page views in the last 30 days. The number keeps rising. Our sincere gratitude to all our readers!

Our topics were once again quite varied. They spanned the law, health, science and medicine. We even had a piece on a local event – Marathon Kids. This piece is part of our new program to promote charities and civic organizations in our own backyard – Baltimore and Washington.

We try week in and week out to find topics of interest for you, our readers. If you ever have any suggestions for topics of interest to you, please leave a comment or send us an email or fill-out the contact form with your thoughts and suggestions. We’d love to hear from you.

Let’s get to it then. What did we cover this past week that you might be interested in reading? Take a look -

Why early settlement is a win-win for all

By: Michael Sanders

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. Read more….

Milk from Mom: Effective in preventing common infant complication (NEC)

By: Jason Penn

The debate among parents regarding the use of human milk vs. formula wages on, but according to a recent study, you can chalk one up for the human body.  That study, headed by the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, concluded that premature babies fed human donor milk were less likely to develop the intestinal condition necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).  Both sides has its advocates, willing to do battle at any time. When it comes to NEC, Mom’s milk has the decided advantage. Read more….

H.I.V. treatment advances, but what are the implications of terminating research early?

By: Sarah Keogh

Last week, I read some exciting news about H.I.V. treatment and transmission. A New York Times article reported that a large clinical trial found that “[p]eople infected with the virus that causes AIDS are far less likely to infect their sexual partners if they are put on treatment immediately instead of waiting until their immune systems begin to deteriorate…” The study found that “[p]atients with H.I.V. were 96 percent less likely to pass on the infection if they were taking antiretroviral drugs…” These findings are overwhelmingly positive and the implication for public health is huge. Read more….

A Windy, Rainy but Fabulous Day in Baltimore: Marathon Kids Final Mile Celebration

By: Rachel Leyko

Despite the wind and rain, this past Saturday I volunteered at the Marathon Kids Final Mile Celebration Event at Western Polytechnic High School in Northwest Baltimore.  I learned of the event through the Junior League of Baltimore and to be honest, prior to Saturday, I did not know much about the organization, its purpose or effect on the children it sought to serve.  However, after Saturday’s event, not only was I impressed with the purpose of Marathon Kids, but I saw firsthand the positive effect this program has had on the children who have participated. Read more….

Acquired Brain Injuries: Causes and Impact

By: Theresa Neumann

On the heels of Jason Penn’s blogregarding calling “911″ for signs of a possible stroke, I decided to introduce a variety of acquired brain injuries for further discussion in future blogs since damage to the brain results in some of the most catastrophic injuries possibly sustained by the human body with significant “collateral damage” for all of the friends and family involved in the individual’s life. Read more….


Sneak Peak of the Week Ahead

Some topics we’ll be covering next week…and then some…

  • You or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, now you have to deal with the horror. Jon Stefanuca will be writing a piece based on our experiences with a number of clients “living with cancer.”
  • Mike Sanders and I have both recently resolved cases involving families who have lost a child. Mike’s involved the death of a fetus very near term. He’ll share that story and the experience of the case with you.
  • Maybe those of you who have children with special needs are familiar with the local (Maryland and Washington, D.C.) resources to help you and your child. For those who may not be or just want to learn more, Jason Penn will be providing information on this next week.
  • You may have heard the recent news about labeling of certain medications for children. Sarah Keogh will report on this and also delve into some practical problems and issues that parents face every day in terms of medicating their children.
  • We’re going to begin a new series on exactly what is recoverable in our jurisdictions (Washington, D.C and Maryland) under what is known as the Survival Act and the Wrongful Death Act. We’ll be paying particular attention to issues involving what’s known as pecuniary benefits, loss wages and diminished earning capacity. Should be educational. We hope you enjoy it.

Have a great weekend, Everyone!

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

 

Social Media and Spreading the Word about Those Who Do So Much Good for Those in Need

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Recently my wife and I attended an event held by a newly formed Baltimore organization known as Rebels with a Cause. Frankly, I have to admit, I hadn’t heard of this organization before. According to the event flyer published by the person we are sponsoring, this is a local group of bicycle riders who are joining the Ride for a Feast 140 mile bike ride from Ocean City to Baltimore, MD. (Whew! Glad I’m only a sponsor).

Saturday night came and we traveled to Gertrude’s, a restaurant at the Baltimore Museum of Art which provided the venue for a pre-event gathering of this group of dedicated, good-cause-driven riders. A ticket was reasonably priced, but the better news was that all money collected from those attending was being given to Moveable Feast.

Now I had even more “research” to do – what is Moveable Feast (yes, that’s the correct spelling), I wondered. Turns out, it’s a great organization with the following mission:

People with AIDS and other life-challenging conditions often become caught in a vicious cycle of poor appetite and physical weakness that prevents them from providing adequate meals for themselves.

That’s why we’re here – to help. To provide nutritious, free meals and other services to people who are sick and need our support.

The charity’s mission is for those with HIV/AIDS and breast cancer. What a fabulous idea and a worthy cause!

I’m not only writing this piece to let others know about these two organizations, I wanted to share some thoughts about charities, community service programs and social media/the internet.

Yes, there are a vast number of great charities in our country alone. According to one published article, in 2010, there were 1,014,816, of which 507,603 had filed with the IRS. By anyone’s count, that’s a lot of charities. Keep in mind, this is only the number of charities in our country. This doesn’t take into account how many community or social service organizations – that are not charities within the definition of this term – exist throughout our land. I did a quick Google search using the terms “Baltimore community service organizations” and found one site containing 436 directory listings. Granted a number of  these are also “charities,” but not all. I don’t even have a clue how to tabulate the number of such community service organizations there are in this country. Finally, I wondered, what about all of the church-sponsored organizations or hospital-based organizations that offer comfort, assistance and guidance to those in various states of need. You get the idea – the number nationwide must be incredible.

What does this have to do with lawyers on Facebook, Twitter and the Internet?

Just a little over a year ago, our firm ventured into the murky waters of blogging and social media. We fumbled and bumbled around trying to figure out how this was supposed to bring clients to our door so that we represent those with valid cases. As time passed and I started to observe more than tweet and post, I began to realize that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are about people connecting with people and those like LinkedIn are wonderful B2B sites.

Having recognized the power of Facebook and Twitter to spread the word on what we know and write about (law, health, medicine, safety, etc.), we stopped posting rehashes of legal rulings, medical malpractice verdicts, and the like and started to publish content loaded with information about “trying to get the word out so you never need a guy like me.” I self-described my social media profile persona as a “Newbie but lover of Blogging on tips n’ tricks (and other stuff) to wisely use healthcare.” Frankly, the readership response has been so rewarding it’s hard to describe. The fact that we are now exceeding 10,000 visitors a month to our site with almost 18,000 pages viewed is beyond our wildest dreams.

Alright – it seems like we may be getting a better idea of the role of social media and how we might be able to “give back” to our community on both a local and national level. As I’ve learned, however, you can’t just “live on the internet.” You need person-to-person contact and involvement.

A new project is being announced

We’re just at the initial phase of our new project; however, we got some really involved, dedicated folks here at the firm. Our current plans include identifying some events we can promote and be personally involved with – yes, even if it means we’ve got to get away from the law books and our computers and get “out there” in the non-digital world to lend support and a helping hand when we can.

Soon we’ll be announcing more details of our community (Baltimore and Washington, D.C.) plans for action.

This fall, there’s an event known as the Race for the Cure. We’ll be throwing our hat in the ring and trying to get our own backers so that we can collect money for this worthy cause. We’re working on a project to help the kids in Baltimore in a civic organization that has been around for years. Frankly, there’s a whole list of projects we now have underway. More announcements to come in the weeks and months ahead.

As lawyers we get to help individuals and their families when they have been injured by the fault of others. That’s been one way to give back to our communities. Now we are going to add to those efforts on a broader community scale. We’re excited about all of the projects and look forward to sharing more with you in future posts.

Jann Rosen-Queralt - Our Rebel With a Cause

One final note

A big congratulations is in order for all those many volunteers out there in our communities.

On a personal note, congratulations and good luck to our own Rebel with a Cause, Jann Rosen-Queralt, whom we’re sponsoring in the upcoming Ride for a Feast.

Jann has collected thousands of dollars in sponsorship contributions. She and her group of “Rebels” are wonderfully giving of their time and energy in the promotion of this incredible cause.

We wish her and all the participants in the Ride Good Luck and safe travels.

 





 

Image from: ourladyofpeaceschool.net