My very first case was a medical malpractice case against Jackson Memorial Hospital for a circumcision that went bad. It was a small case for everyone but my client; who needed to have his penis undergo a painful process to correct a doctor’s mistake. That was 1991. Since then a lot has changed. Florida has instituted caps on damages and attorney’s fees have been lowered by not just a statute but a constitutional amendment.
I have seen doctors perhaps choked by HMOs not paying them what they are worth or by greed forget why they became doctors in the first place. I guess it’s not hard to understand and probably the same can be said of some preachers, politicians, and even lawyers.
What has happened to us? Perhaps as my friend and teacher Gerry Spence observes; people have to cultivate the art of caring?
I have witnessed a striking example of change this week. Dr. Garrett Trance an ER physician at Jackson Memorial Hospital is an example. Dr. Richard Weiner an orthopeadic surgeon in Palm Beach, Florida is yet another. Both are doctors who care about patients Dr. Richard Weiner and have demonstrated it this week, by breaking through the wall of silence that prevents most doctors from speaking out when they witness patient care that was negligent.
Expert testimony is required in Florida along with 44 other states and the District of Columbia to establish medical malpractice. What does that mean? If a patient believes she is the victim of medical malpractice she must first find a doctor, in Florida’s case a doctor of the exact same specialty, willing to testify that the defendant doctor allegedly committed malpractice. Good luck.
Most doctors that I have spoken with are too busy or too scared, usually both to get involved in litigation. Most fear that they might (as Dr. Trance did) lose their jobs, friends or invitations to the next doctors’ conference. I have heard doctors tell me that they wish they could testify but their “partners, spouses or associations forbid it”. How does that promote could and safe medicine? It does not.
Most doctors are good and even good doctors can make mistakes. Holding doctors and hosptials accountable by patients and their lawyers is a very difficult and expensive process.
Defendant doctors have no trouble calling “colleagues” to come to their rescue by defending their actions in court. Until now. A glimmer of hope, as sign of change. Caring, as Gerry says is contagious.
Both Doctors Trance and Weiner have broken through the wall and I applaud them. More importantly, their patients, whether a jury agrees, will at least have an opportunity to obtain justice.