Posted by Bill Sandweg on 11 July 2011.
Our justice system depends on the integrity of the jury and its ability to find the truth and do justice. Jurors give of their time and try to do a good job. Unfortunately, over the last ten years, relentless propagandizing by business interests concerned with profits has resulted in a number of myths which juries now believe and which skew their verdicts in favor of defendants. These myths pervade jurors views about all personal injury cases but especially medical malpractice cases. Over the next week or so, I will write about some of these myths.
MYTH #1: Most Medical Malpractice Cases are Frivolous.
While there are some frivolous malpractice cases, the vast majority are not for the reason of simple economics: malpractice cases are so expensive lawyers can’t afford to bring cases which are losers and doctors win most cases which get tried.
In every medical malpractice case, the parties must hire expert witnesses to testify on a number of issues. These experts charge by the hour and their rates are most often between $400 and $800 per hour. I have to pay the experts I hire to review the case for me and to speak with me about their opinions. I have to pay the defense experts to come to deposition and discuss their opinions with me. When we get to trial, I have to pay the experts I have hired to come to court and testify. This usually requires them to spend the day out of the office and they charge accordingly. For a typical case which we handle, we put in over $100,000.00 of time and write checks for between $50,000.00 and $100,000.00 for expert witness fees and travel. If I lose two cases a year, I run the risk of bankrupting our law firm.
Regardless of what you may have been led to believe, doctors and hospitals win most medical malpractice cases which go to trial. In Maricopa County, the statistics are even more favorable for doctors and hospitals. They win 9 out of every 10 cases which go to trial.
All this means that any good malpractice lawyer must be incredibly selective about the cases he or she takes. Lawyers who are not experienced, talented and selective won’t be successful for their clients. I don’t do anyone a favor by taking a case which has a low chance of success. If we lose, the client not only ends up with nothing, he probably ends up owing the doctors $15,000 to $20,000 for a share of their court costs. I end up getting nothing for my work and have to pay the $50,000 to $100,000 in costs I have incurred in bringing the case for my client.
Because of these simple economic facts of life, at Sandweg & Ager we are able to take fewer than one of every 100 cases we are offered. Our selectivity is matched by the other good malpractice attorneys in town. Instead of the system being clogged by frivolous cases, the fact is that many people with a real injury caused by medical negligence won’t be able to find an attorney to take their case because their injury is too small, they made too good a recovery from their injury, or their health history is too complex.