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Malpractice Lawsuits of the Rich and Famous

Medical malpractice lawyers are just looking for a deep pocket to sue. Every time something bad happens to anyone, a lawsuit is filed. It is always only about the money.

Largely, these generalizations are just plain false. Usually, in a malpractice case, the doctor has insurance so the pockets are deep enough. Here in Maryland where we have caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, the pockets are almost always deep enough. Study after study has shown that only a very small percentage of malpractice that results in a wrongful death leads to a lawsuit or settlement. (I think I saw a study that said 4% but don’t hold me to that. Both sides of the tort reform issue argue that true victims don’t receive adequate compensation.) And, while there is no question that medical malpractice lawsuits are about money, cynics would be amazed at how often the desire to appropriately assign liability is more important to the client than how much money they recover from the lawsuit.

Yet, a significant percentage of people in the country would agree with the first paragraph of this post instead of the second. I really believe that a big reason for this is the inferences people draw from what happens when something happens to someone famous.

Why is it that every time something happens to a celebrity there is a lawyer ready and willing to file a lawsuit no matter how ridiculous the circumstances are? I know exactly why. Lawyers enjoy the status and notoriety they get when they represent a celebrity.

How do I know this? I’ve fallen prey to it myself. Ten years ago, when I was just starting a plaintiffs’ personal injury practice after being a defense lawyer, I filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the New England Patriots. The claim against the Patriots settled and I believe it was a meritorious claim. Did I enjoy it when ESPN and CNN picked up the story? I can tell you I’m far past that point in my life now, but then? Yeah, I did. After that, I handled other high profile media cases that brought attention to myself that, I have to admit, I would never have gotten involved in if I was not (1) flattered to have been asked and (2) the plaintiff was not famous or the case was not high profile.

Like I said, I’m far past that now. I just want to be the best lawyer I can be and get the best results possible for our clients and I certainly don’t want attention for the mere filing of a lawsuit which is the ultimate Paris Hilton/Kim Kardashian “get notoriety for doing absolutely nothing” without the consolation prize of at least being very attractive while doing it.

So when I see these lawsuits filed, I always imagine how happy the lawyer must be for the attention they are receiving. Some are young lawyers but some lawyers never outgrow it. It is not just wannabe great lawyers, either. A lot of very good, well respected personal injury lawyers take cases for famous clients that they otherwise never would.

So, completing the circle I started, the general public sees that every celebrity death ends in a lawsuit as does every celebrity dispute. The public weighs the merits of these cases, finding that more often than not they are at best unsustainable and, at worst, ridiculous, and assumes this is a microcosm of all pending lawsuits.

This blog post was intended to comment on Eric Turkewitz’s blog post on Michael Jackson’s wrongful death medical malpractice lawsuit against the concert promoter of his comeback tour, apparently claiming vicarious liability for the malpractice of Jackson’s personal doctor. But I got sidetracked by the larger issue that is more meaningful to our clients: the preconceived notion that jurors bring with them to the courthouse. I don’t like to prejudge lawsuits when I really don’t know much about the underlying claims. Too many rash judgments (“rush to judgment”, as we all say now) are made about lawsuits without all of the facts. That said… if my job were to assign Vegas odds (or London odds where it is probably legal to bet on this) on whether this case actually makes it past summary judgment, much less a jury assigning blame to the concert group – it would definitely be a long shot.

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  • http://www.medleague.com Pat Iyer

    Mr. Miller is right in that only a small percentage of injured people actually sue. The statistics are estimated to be 8% but this is a very hard number to determine so we don’t really know exactly how many people are injured by medical malpractice. Mistakes are unrecognized or hidden or hard to link up to the injury. People also don’t sue because they don’t know they were injured or they forgive the healthcare provider. Or they receive a satisfying apology.

    In my research on this subject and in talking to many plaintiff attorneys, I hear the most common reason why people seek out a plaintiff attorney is to get answers. What happened to me? What happened to my loved one? Another common reasons is to prevent the same injury from happening to someone else.

    Plaintiff attorneys have to very carefully screen cases to avoid taking worthless ones or low value ones, that will drain their resources. While there are people who want to sue over anything minor, they must find an attorney willing to commit resources to help them in that endeavor, in what is a very expensive effort.

    Pat Iyer RN MSN LNCC, coeditor of Nursing Malpractice, Lawyers and Judges Publishing Company