Getting to the Answer

MET-AJ-1-JOINT-COLLAPSEOne of the common refrains is that medical malpractice lawsuits are expensive and don't solve the problem of why mistakes were made in the first place.

Another common complaint is that doctors tend to believe they are beyond reproach and incapable of making mistakes.

And the correct answer is that there is some truth to both ideas. Medical malpractice cases ARE expensive, time-consuming, and not always so great at getting at the truth. Granted, the "discussion" of whether the good old fall guys, my fellow "greedy plaintiff's lawyers," or the other good old personifications of evil, "the medical-insurance cabal," is to blame for this inefficiency is a discussion for another day, or perhaps another decade.

In the long run, though, isn't the main point to figure out what went wrong, why, and how to prevent it in the future? After all, whether you side with the cost-benefit analysis out of the University of Chicago economic efficiency school or ascribe to the thought process that we simply must prevent all bad results, the civil legal system is generally the "best" way to go about doing this. And that's like saying the Cubs last century is similar to championship baseball. Not really close. Same game in general, but the similarities end there!

We can only hope for things to change with new ownership, management, and attitude for those of us who are North Side baseball fans.

As to medical malpractice getting facts, answers, and solutions, we may be getting closer at least.

A story in this week's Chicago Tribune highlighted how some complex medical problems were difficult to pin down via the legal process. It took a bit of a combination of the legal process and research by doctors to get closer to figuring it all out.

Sure, the doctors mentioned in the story could be noted for their ties to big money medical product manufacturers, much as others could point to the obvious money to be made in successful medical negligence lawsuits by plaintiff's lawyers. But the doctors mentioned in the story all have great reputations as doctors and tend to be highly regarded both for their medical knowledge and overall ethical thoughts. And, as pointed out in the article, it is sometimes a problem where the "answer" isn't obvious enough legally but is painfully obvious to physicians themselves. All this gets to the dichotomy between the "preponderence of evidence" standard in civil courts versus the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard used in criminal law and the standard employed by doctors as far as whether something is harmful or not.

This story highlights how pain pumps, used during joint surgeries, can often contribute to the wearing away of articular cartilage, creating a relatively new condition known as chondrolysis. Again, the key here is that there is no definitive answer to what was causing this condition, with some of the arrows pointing to the use of pain pumps, other information seeming to blame dyes used during surgery, and still other evidence pointing to other things. It's just not that simple.

Sure, as a plaintiff's lawyer I could decry these doctors as self-serving and point out their ties to the big drug manufacturers and mention how they are obviously trying to cut down on medical malpractice cases being filed against them.

But then again, isn't that the whole point? Isn't that the entire reason why medical malpractice cases exist in the first place?

Plain and simple, no one wants anyone hurt and no one wants to see doctors make mistakes. We all hope to get through medical procedures without incident and we don't wish ill on our doctors. Mistakes happen and when they do there is a legal system to compensate people for wrongs they have suffered. But in between those extremes seems to be a building sweet spot of a relatively happy medium.

Categories: General