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Can a Medical Malpractice Case that Settles for $750,000 Be Frivolous?

I read this weekend a crazy story about a Tennessee medical malpractice case. The plaintiff sued a Tennessee lawyer for legal malpractice for botching a case which he supposedly should have won. The legal negligence case settled for $750,000 which means, if logic and reason were at all involved in the settlement process, it was a meaningful case with actual value. Incredibly, he was also successfully sued for bringing a groundless lawsuit–the same case he should have won. There can be only one cogent response to these facts: huh?

Here is what happened. The plaintiff has back surgery which left him blind in one eye and without peripheral vision in the other, rendering him legally blind and unable to work. Obviously, this was an awful outcome. Plaintiff brings a med mal claim against the doctor, claiming that they used incompatible blood control products together during the surgery which caused the Plaintiff’s injuries.

Plaintiff’s lawyer apparently starts screwing things up from there. The lawyer failed to find a medical expert that supported the claim before suing, although there is a requirement in Tennessee that he do so. Ultimately, he never obtained an expert. In the legal malpractice suit, Plaintiff contended that incompatible medications did not cause his injuries. Instead, he and his experts claimed that the actual cause of his injuries was the misplacement of his head during his seven-hour surgery. They settled the legal malpractice claim again for a substantial amount of money.

In the legal negligence case, the lawyer being sued steps into the shoes of the doctor being sued in the l malpractice case as a defendant for the “case within the case.” So someone will write a big check under the assumption that the doctor had committed medical malpractice, but the doctor’s insurance rates do not go up and he gets off scot-free.
Incredibly, the doctor does not leave well enough alone and sues the lawyer, claiming that the lawsuit was entirely groundless. On some level, it was groundless because it was impossible for the blood product at issue to cause blindness. The original counselor who botched the case. On a deeper level, it seems most likely that the doctor committed medical malpractice and blinded a person. Ignoring the obvious injustice of allowing a doctor who committed malpractice to get a free ride and profit from his malpractice, a Tennessee judge, focusing solely on the lawyer’s suing under the wrong theory, found that the lawyer lacked probable cause for filing the medical malpractice lawsuit and awarded the doctor $80,000 in damages.

The phrase “unjust enrichment” is not the correct legal description of what happened here, but it is the most accurate. I do not know if the lawyer will appeal, but I cannot imagine a scenario where an appellate judge would affirm this verdict.

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