Don’t be a Laughing Stock…
A few weeks ago, as I was walking out of the deposition of one of my expert witnesses in a birth injury case, the insurance company lawyer on the other side and I started talking about the case. When we were done, he smirked and said something that made me sick to my stomach:
“You might have us on this one. You know, we’ve got another case that’s a lot like this one, the kid has terrible injuries, but the lawyer who represents the baby’s family is just screwing it up. Our company thought we’d be on the hook for millions, but we’ll probably get out of it for a couple grand. The attorney usually does DUIs, not malpractice. He never talked to the important witnesses, he didn’t hire experts on time, and his legal writing is terrible–the judge can’t stand him. Our doctor may have screwed up, but that lawyer is the one who is committing malpractice.”
I put his comments out of my mind as best I could, but yesterday, I heard something similar from a different hospital lawyer. We had just argued a motion about compulsory arbitration to the judge, and after the hearing, the hospital’s attorney walked into the elevator with me and laughed. I asked him what was so funny, and he answered:
“Just thinking of another case. This same issue came up and the plaintiff’s lawyer had no idea what he was doing. This arbitration statute is complicated, and he couldn’t even find it. He didn’t know about recent amendments and he sure hadn’t read the caselaw. We creamed him. His client will never get as much in arbitration as he would have in front of a jury. We just won that case and it hasn’t even started.”
As I headed back to my office, I thought of those other lawyers and their clients. The malpractice defense lawyers admitted the clients had strong cases, but that wasn’t enough. Because the clients chose lawyers who didn’t focus on medical malpractice law, their cases were getting screwed up. In one case, a birth injury, the catastrophically injured infant client would need millions of dollars to help pay for future medical needs. Instead, he would be lucky to get a few thousand.
You only need to thumb through the phone book to see how many attorneys there are practicing in Utah. Many of them are outstanding in their fields. But for medical malpractice cases, hiring a “jack-of-all-trades” attorney can be a terrible mistake. Don’t be the next person these insurance defense lawyers laugh about. If you’ve got a medical malpractice case, hire a lawyer that knows the ropes.