Many doctors view medical malpractice lawyers with suspicion and even hostility. They listen to fables that suggest that the tort system is a giant lottery, in which juries award huge sums of money to people whose injuries are questionable. The words “frivolous lawsuit” are bandied about as if there were no other kind of lawsuit. All too often, doctors are taught that they shouldn’t trust lawyers or juries.
It’s a shame.
And it isn’t true.
The simple fact is that no one benefits from a frivolous lawsuit. Medical malpractice cases are carefully screened for merit. It would be foolish not to do this. Every case represents an investment of thousands of hours of work, research, depositions, and expert consultations. In addition, the expenses of litigation are substantial. Experts need to be paid. Court reporters, filings, transcripts, medical records, travel, production of exhibits – these things all cost money. Medical malpractice lawyers generally work on contingent fees, and advance the expenses. A loser of a case is a financial disaster for the attorney, as well as the client.
Nor are jurors and courts careless about evaluating cases of medical malpractice. Very early in the case, Arizona law requires that a qualified expert in the health care provider’s field certify the case as meritorious in a sworn statement. Both sides present the most qualified experts they can find to the jury at trial. Juries are not random number generators – great care is taken to make sure they are fully informed. In our experience, jurors make decisions based on careful consideration of the evidence regarding liability and damages.
Here at Robbins & Curtin, cases are carefully screened for merit. We receive 35 to 40 calls regarding potential cases for every one we agree to investigate. The potential cases we do not accept, get a brief review of the facts, and are politely informed that we will not represent them. Of the cases we do agree to investigate, as many as 50% are rejected after investigation. The cases that we agree to litigate are fully vetted and have been reviewed by medical experts who have identified specific acts of negligence.
So – who is the doctor’s best friend? In fairness, we don’t expect doctors to have friendly feelings toward a law firm that is suing them. But the medical community can take comfort in the fact that we turn away many, many more cases than we take. We do a lot to prevent frivolous and non-meritorious cases.