Shame on attorneys who chase unethical claims for profit
I READ with interest the article by Kisha van Vuuren, a public relations strategist, written on behalf of the legal profession. (“Don’t blame lawyers, blame woeful health system”, Cape Times, November 13).
I am a medical specialist who gives medico-legal opinions for both plaintiff or defendant depending on the individual case concerned.
Regrettably, there is much truth in the article by Van Vuuren, as there are some tragic outcomes from poor care, in both the public and private sectors.
The legal profession can, however, not avoid the fact that some of their methods and ethical standards when entering into medico-legal litigation are somewhat dubious.
As Van Vuuren gave some examples of tragic outcomes, I would like to give you an example of what we are seeing, which could be called unethical behaviour on the part of attorneys.
I was approached by an attorney, to give a medico-legal report on behalf of a woman who was treated in a state clinic.
On going carefully through all the details of the case, it was quite clear that there was absolutely no claim of negligence against this clinic.
In order to save money, I did not write a report, but phoned the attorney and informed him of this, telling him that he would not find any specialist who would support his claim.
His response was “that is a pity, but I think I will just give them another push to see what I can get”.
This is clearly not a claim on behalf of the woman, who had in fact suffered very little inconvenience or consequences from what was a minor and well-known complication following pregnancy.
One can only be led to believe that what he was chasing was his portion of the settlement.
It is quite clear from the cases I have seen that the attorneys seeking profit use people to trawl for possible cases of negligence, and even employ inside informers in hospitals.
Unfortunately, this method leads to many cases being scouted when there is no case of negligence to be made. This, however, still leads to time and costs for the defendant’s attorneys.
The claim that most of these cases are settled in court on behalf of the plaintiff is inaccurate, as many cases which have used up expensive time do not even make it to the court.
I think it is time for the legal profession to come clean on their methods and also to be completely transparent as to how much they are taking from large settlements of up to R20-R30 million.
In my opinion, the medical profession are doing a lot to be honest about obvious cases of negligence, however the attorneys are not being completely open about their practices.
Once this happens, the antagonism between the Department of Health, private medical practitioners and the legal fraternity will disappear and lead to a system which benefits those who have really suffered personal injury, instead of wasting valuable time and money on attempts to make money, rather than do the best for those who have suffered.