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

I read this weekend an absolutely crazy story about a Tennessee medical malpractice case. A Tennessee lawyer was sued 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 real value. Incredibly, he was also successfully sued for bringing a groundless lawsuit – the same case he should have won. There can be only once cogent response to these facts: huh?

Here is what happened. Underlying 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 incompatible blood control products were used together during the surgery and caused 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 filing the suit, although there is a requirement in Tennessee that he do so. Ultimately he never did obtain 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 real cause of his injuries was the misplacement of his head during his seven hour surgery. The legal malpractice claim was settled, again for a substantial amount of money.

Of course, 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 was willing to write a pretty 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 files suit against 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. There is no question that 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 essentially profit from his malpractice, a Tennessee judge, focusing solely on the lawyer’s bringing suit 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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